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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Internet Investigation Report

D.3: Victims and survivors

IN-A1 and IN-A2

8. The Inquiry heard evidence from IN-A1 and IN-A2.[1] They are siblings, who were groomed online by Anthony O’Connor, a 57-year-old man who met IN-A1 on a music-sharing website, BearShare.

9. O’Connor duped IN-A1 into having contact with him by pretending, initially, to be a 22-year-old woman named ‘Susan’. IN-A1 was 13 years old at the time. Initially, Susan seemed nice and was interested in IN-A1 and her hobbies. They would use Skype to message each other. IN-A1 introduced Susan to her 12-year-old brother, IN-A2. Susan’s control over IN-A1 grew over time such that when Susan revealed he was a man, IN-A1 was not able to break contact with him.

10. One morning, O’Connor made IN-A2 sexually touch IN-A1 and even went so far as to suggest that IN-A2 should have sexual intercourse with her. After this incident, IN-A1 describes herself as becoming O’Connor’s slave. O’Connor started to make IN-A1 commit sexual acts for him over webcam. He told IN-A1 that he had photographs of her and her family, but that he had deleted them. For a short period of time, she tried to stop contact but then he got in touch to say that, because she had ignored him, he had not really deleted the photographs. He sent her photographs of her and IN-A2 together and said that if she did not do as he asked, he would put the photographs on the internet. He even threatened to have her kidnapped (IN-A1 had told O’Connor her address, while he was masquerading as Susan). O’Connor kept saying that if IN-A1 did one more thing she would be free from him but the abuse continued. When sentencing O’Connor to 14 years’ imprisonment, the judge referred to his behaviour towards IN-A1 as “the grossest manipulation.[2]

11. The impact of O’Connor’s abuse can hardly be overstated. The children’s mother (IN-H1) described the impact of the abuse:

My daughter’s terrified of everybody. She started self-harming, overdosing, starving herself, she wouldn’t leave the house. She was aggressive, violent. She – she didn’t want to be around me or talk to me. She couldn’t handle – she couldn’t handle anything. She overdosed about 20/30 times. She has scars all over her body from self-harming … they lost everything … [My son] is very vulnerable. He’s always been very vulnerable. He’s – he’s very quiet. He – he just wants to forget it ever happened. He is – he just distances himself from everybody, he doesn’t trust people. He clings to his dad a lot, because he knows he’s protected … [3]

Ben

12. The Inquiry also heard about Ben (not his real name). In 2010, at the age of 13, Ben started to explore his homosexuality by using online forums.[4] This led him into contact with a number of adult males, many of whom went on to groom and sexually abuse Ben. All Ben’s abusers knew that he was only 13 or 14 years old.[5]

13. Ms Tink Palmer, Chief Executive Officer of the Marie Collins Foundation, told us that the majority of his abusers were white men aged between 23 and 56 years old.

The majority were middle-class with jobs. There was a teacher, two senior management positions, one man who owned his own business. So they were what I would call comfortably off people. And they were also from all parts of the country and would travel to him or try to get him to go to them.[6]

14. The offending came to light when, in 2010, Ben contacted ChildLine because a man was threatening to post naked photos of Ben on the internet. ChildLine referred the matter to the police.[7] Despite the involvement of the police and various agencies in early 2011, Ben continued to be abused and travelled to different parts of the UK to meet his abusers.

15. In early February 2011,[8] one of Ben’s abusers was uncovered when Ben’s parents overheard Ben making arrangements to go to Portsmouth to meet a 23-year-old male. Ben’s mother found that Ben had electronically sent sexually explicit photos of himself to this unknown male. His parents reported this matter to the police, who passed the matter to their safeguarding unit. No immediate response was forthcoming. Ben’s parents also reported the matter to their GP, who referred the matter to Bradford’s Children’s Social Care, and a meeting was arranged at Ben’s school. At that meeting, police seized Ben’s laptop and forcibly removed his phone from him.[9] However, no police investigation commenced and it was not until mid-February that Ben was formally video interviewed and asked for his account.

16. Ben reported to the police that he had been abused by over 30 adult males.[10] The volume of offenders who gained access to and the trust of Ben via the internet is shown below.[11]

Table 4: Offences against Ben that proceeded to court

Date of offence Offence Status
January 2011 Grooming; sexual assault Trial; not guilty verdict
August/November 2010
Reported February 2011
Grooming; penetrative assaults Guilty plea; 36 months prison
January 2011
Reported February 2011
Grooming; penetrative assaults Guilty plea; 32 months prison
June 2011
Reported same day
Abduction; grooming Guilty plea; 16 months suspended 2 years
January/June 2011
Reported June 2011
Grooming; penetrative assaults Guilty plea; 42 months prison
January 2011
Reported March 2011
Penetrative assaults Guilty plea; 24 months prison
January 2011
Reported February 2011
Penetrative assaults Trial; not guilty verdict
January/June 2011
Reported March 2011
Grooming; inciting a minor Guilty plea; sentenced 20 months prison
Autumn 2010
Reported March 2011
Grooming; penetrative assaults Guilty plea; 3 years prison
September 2011
Reported September 2011
Grooming; penetrative assault Guilty plea; 24 months Young Offender Institution
November 2011
Reported November 2011
Grooming; penetrative assault Guilty plea; 30 months prison
October 2011
Reported November 2011
Grooming; penetrative assault Guilty plea; 37 months prison
2011 Inciting a minor Guilty plea; 2 years supervision
2011 Inciting a minor x 1 Guilty plea; 3 years supervision
2011 Inciting a minor x 4 Guilty plea; 1 year community
2011 Inciting a minor x 2 Guilty plea; 3 years community
2011 Inciting a minor x 3 Guilty plea; 12 months prison
2011 Inciting a minor x 3 4 years Young Offenders Institution; 7 years supervision
2011 Grooming/CSE Charged in Merseyside NFA in WY
2011 Grooming/CSE 27 months prison
2011 Inciting a minor 18 months prison
Autumn 2010
Reported February 2011
Inciting a minor x 13 Voyeurism x 1 3 years plus 8 months for voyeurism
2011 Inciting a minor x 3 9 months suspended for two years

Source: MCF000004

17. In total, 23 offenders were taken to court. One case was not pursued. In all but two of the other cases, the offenders pleaded guilty to offences of sexually abusing Ben or inciting the sexual abuse of Ben. The sentences imposed by the courts ranged from supervision and community orders to sentences of immediate imprisonment.

18. A Serious Case Review, conducted by the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board[12] and published in June 2017, found that West Yorkshire Police and Bradford Children’s Social Care failed in their statutory duty to protect Ben.[13] It concluded that the police’s response to reports of Ben’s contact with an offender in August 2010 was poor and that the initial police investigation was inept, badly managed and under resourced. As Ben told Ms Palmer in September 2016:

I wasn’t treated like a victim properly, there was one policeman who said that I was wasting police resources, and I knew what I was doing, almost blaming me, saying I’d be put into an offender’s unit for a month. So definitely they need to adjust how they view boys in this situation.[14]

The review also concluded that the use of technology exposed children to contact with child sexual abusers that no individual (for example, Ben’s parents who attempted to restrict his access to the internet) or agency (such as the police who removed his devices) could prevent.[15]

19. As Ben’s parents told the Serious Case Review:

The enormity and horror of what our son suffered would be any parent’s nightmare; the effect on our family was and is truly shocking … These should have been the happiest days of our son’s life, but he was robbed of his childhood. We still cannot bear to think of what was done to his young and immature mind and equally to his young and immature body.[16]

References

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