An online predator who targeted thousands of children has admitted 96 sex abuse offences against 51 boys aged four to 14.
Officers unearthed evidence that out of the 5,000 children he contacted in the UK and abroad, as many as 500 victims sent him images.
Labourer David Nicholas Wilson, 36, from Norfolk – one of the most prolific offenders the National Crime Agency has ever investigated – created a series of fake online identities to contact young boys on Facebook and other social media platforms.
He pretended to be multiple teenage girls and built trust with his victims, sending them sexual images of young women harvested from the internet in exchange for the boys sending him images and videos of themselves.
Using unregistered mobile phones, he then blackmailed a number of his victims into sending him more extreme footage – and in some cases, of them abusing younger siblings or friends.
On some occasions Wilson then distributed the images to victims’ friends.
He showed no compassion even when some victims begged him to stop.
Such was the level of suffering Wilson inflicted, several children on the indictment spoke of wanting to end their lives.
Today, Wilson, of Kirstead, King’s Lynn, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court and admitted 96 charges relating to 51 victims between 2016 and 2020.
The charges included: intentionally causing or inciting boys to engage in sexual activity; blackmail; intentionally causing children to look at sexual images, and intentionally facilitating the sexual exploitation of children by sending on images of those children.
He will be sentenced on 12 January 2021.
In June and July 2017, Facebook identified 20 accounts of boys ranging from 12 to 15 years old, who had sent indecent images of themselves to an account seemingly belonging to a 13-year-old girl.
The material was forwarded to the NCA for investigation by NCMEC – the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – which receives industry referrals before disseminating them to law enforcement agencies to investigate.
The NCA uncovered key evidence against Wilson: IP addresses used to commit the offences resolved to his house; CCTV footage of him buying a top-up voucher for a phone number linked to one of the fake Facebook accounts; and when he was arrested in August 2017 the phone used to commit some of the offences was hidden in his bedroom.
He was released on bail for the investigation to continue.
The NCA uncovered a web of false social media identities he used to commit offences.
Wilson used consistent tradecraft to avoid detection.
NCA investigators used huge amounts of communication data to link the offending profiles and ultimately prove Wilson was responsible.
Between November 2017 and January 2018 NCMEC made dozens more referrals.
In all Facebook material made up 90 referrals from NCMEC to the NCA. Their information was crucial to Wilson facing justice – though Facebook currently plans to encrypt its messenger service which will mean offenders like Wilson will likely go undetected.
In order to obtain the evidence from relevant Facebook, Snapchat, Google and Instagram accounts, an International Letter of Request (ILOR) was prepared and submitted to US authorities via the Crown Prosecution Service.
This was an extremely involved legal process that took close to two years to complete. The NCA received the relevant evidential material in October 2019.
It contained more than 250,000 messages to analyse and the scale of Wilson’s offending became clear with victims across the UK and in America and Australia.
In April this year Wilson was charged with three counts and remanded. In August while in prison he was charged with the remaining counts.
Tony Cook, NCA head of CSA operations, said: “David Wilson is a prolific offender who has caused heartbreaking suffering to some of the boys and their families in this case.
“He was able to gain the boys’ trust and exploit their use of social media using well practiced techniques to convince them he was genuinely a young female who was interested in them.
“He then manipulated or forced them to send images of themselves or other children which he craved.
“He knew the anguish victims were suffering but ignored any pleas from them to stop until he got what he wanted from them.
“Wilson retained material the children had sent and used the threat of sharing it among their friends to control them.
“I commend the victims and their families for their bravery in helping the prosecution and our investigators for painstakingly and tenaciously proving Wilson was responsible.
“Wilson is an example of adult sexual offenders who use the internet to hide their real identities, using plausible online personas to exploit children.
“We know children are increasingly sharing personal material on social media sites but I would implore them to think carefully about their interactions online and be aware of the hurt and long-term damage manipulative offenders like Wilson cause.”
Wilson’s conviction relied upon information detected and shared by Facebook.
But the company plans to implement end-to-end encryption on its messenger service meaning it – and law enforcement - will lose sight of offences like his.
Rob Jones, NCA Director of Threat Leadership, said: “This was a major investigation which has brought a very dangerous offender to justice.
“It’s chilling to think Wilson wouldn’t have been caught if Facebook had already implemented their end-to-end encryption plans which will entirely prevent access to message content.
“The NCA, wider law enforcement and child safety groups are clear that the move will turn the lights out for policing and effectively provide cover for offenders such as Wilson.
“Facebook Messenger is already protected by strong encryption that still enables the company to detect grooming and known abuse images.
“It was Facebook’s initial identification of Wilson’s accounts in June and July 2017 which provided the intelligence that started this investigation.
“Content obtained from Facebook Messenger conversations was also crucial throughout the operation. Had that content been end-to-end encrypted, there is a real risk that justice would not have been served and Wilson would still be abusing victims today.”
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a similar crime then we encourage you to report the matter to your local police.
If you have been affected by anything in this report then information and advice can be found on the Thinkuknow website. Links also include advice for parents, carers and professionals.
Child protection charity The Lucy Faithfull Foundation runs the Stop It Now! helpline which offers confidential advice to anyone concerned about their own or someone else’s behaviour towards children.
23 November 2020