Canberra, 7 August 2015, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions — Former South Australian public servant, 33-year-old Shannon Grant McCoole was today sentenced to a benchmark record of 35 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 28 years for his lead role sharing child pornography material on a global child abuse internet website.
In May 2014 the Queensland Police Service (QPS) received additional information from its Danish counterparts in respect of a child abuse website that investigators from Task Force Argos were already investigating. The website hosted the production of a large number of child pornography image files involving an Australian resident, who was known to be the website’s Head Administrator. Further investigations by Task Force Argos revealed that McCoole was the Australian resident.
Taskforce Argos investigators secretly gained access to the global online paedophile network and later arrested master-mind McCoole over the operation of a 45,000 + member paedophile site on the ‘dark web’.
The Court heard how McCoole worked at Families SA and was a carer who had sexually abused at least seven children in his care.
The website sourced members to post abusive pre-teen child videos or images every 30 days utilising TOR computer software to mask their identity, making it difficult for authorities to trace. Members were required to continually upload a regular supply of child exploitation material in order to retain membership.
Membership came with designated access to different areas of the forum, access to the rules of membership and technical forums directed towards encryption, software and internet safety advice. Members also had access on private areas where there was discussion surrounding the sexual abuse of children and rare content.
Members could become special VIPs, honorary members or Private Zone members—meaning your level of participation directed ‘exclusive access’ to certain material.
In June 2014 Queensland and South Australia police officers searched McCoole’s premises in Oaklands Park, South Australia.
Forensic officers conducted a preliminary examination of the McCoole’s laptop which revealed several icons which were known to be used by the Head Administrator of the website.
The following day McCoole signed over his online identities to police.
When questioned by police, McCoole revealed he started off as a regular member, but as others were arrested, he became an Administrator—and at one stage posted material of children in his care.
For years, Australian and international police had known the site was administered by an Australian person but were unable to identify them—eventually sparking the break-through that lead to identifying McCoole as he routinely used an unusual greeting in online communications.
Not only did McCoole use similar language in many online forums, but the handles he went by were very similar to the one used by the administrator on the site.
Taskforce Argos Detective Inspector Jon Rouse said “There are areas of the internet that are perceived as being a safe haven for the sexual exploitation of children. The work performed by Argos investigators and our Victim Identification team during this operation has proven that is not the case.
“After McCoole’s arrest, we began an extensive operation to bring the site and its users down,” added Detective Inspector Rouse.
Over the next six months, the detectives ran the site from Brisbane’s police HQ while feeding information to international law enforcement colleagues to ultimately help catch other members of the network and rescue children.
After one key arrest of a co-administrator in the Netherlands, officers gained full access to all messages and material.
Deputy Director of the CDPP, David Adsett described the case as immense and unimaginable and praised the police for bringing down such a massive paedophile operation.
‘Examining the evidence brought to light some unimaginable material, exploiting vulnerable and totally innocent children. Queensland and South Australian police authorities did an outstanding job to bring this site down,’ said Adsett.
The lengthy prison term imposed on McCoole demonstrates criminals that exploit young people will face the full force of law, added Adsett.
Detective Inspector Rouse said, “We engaged with CDPP at the preliminary stages of this investigation to ensure that McCoole was prosecuted not only for the horrendous crimes he committed against children, but also for the role he played as a global administrator of a child sex offender network. This result is testimony to the professionalism and dedication of the CDPP.”
The site has been completely shut down.
Shannon Grant McCoole was convicted and sentenced on 7 August 2015 for:
- One aggravated count of using a carriage service to transmit child pornography material (contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(iii) of the Criminal Code (Cth)) on 3 or more separate occasions and the commission of each offence involved 2 or more people, contrary to section 474.24A of the Criminal Code (Cth)
- One count of urging the commission of the offence of transmitting child pornography material using a carriage service contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(iii) of the Criminal Code (Cth) with the intention that the incited offence be committed, contrary to section 11.4(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
The maximum penalty in relation to the aggravated offence is 25 years imprisonment.
The maximum penalty in relation to the incitement offence is 7 years imprisonment.