November 2010

Cornish paedo ring trials end with 18 years in jail for fifth man

THE paedophile ring which systematically abused girls as young as eight after plying them with booze and drugs has been smashed. In one of the biggest operations ever seen in Cornwall, five men were convicted of a series of sexual offences against children.

Beasts: John Barrett (left) and James Machin (right) were both convicted of sexually abusing young girls

Monsters: (From left to right) Alan Wills, Derek Shepherd, and John Wrey were all part of a paedophile ring that inflicted horrific sexual abuse on young girls

Seven girls – out of a total of 28 questioned by detectives – were discovered to have been the victims of the gang led by convicted sex offender John Barrett, who groomed them with cigarettes and passed them on to the other men.

He drove two of them – aged seven and eight – around the county in the back of his own white van to deliver to others in the gang.

Details of the offences can only now be released after the final member of the gang, grandfather James Machin, of Falmouth, was found guilty at Truro Crown Court on Friday.

Speaking after his trial a relative of one his victims told of the daily nightmare she now lives with, saying: “These men could not have cared less what they did to these children.

“It’s been terrible for the girls having to give evidence – something no child should ever have to go through.”

Certainly for some of the victims the harrowing experience has proved too much and they have attempted suicide.

This week Machin was sentenced to 18 years in jail for ten charges, including rape and making and possessing indecent images of children.

Ringleader Barrett, 48, a builder from Camborne, is currently serving 14 years at Exeter prison for 16 sexual offences. John Wrey, 54, from Hayle, is serving a five-year sentence in Dartmoor prison after earlier confessing to two rapes.

Two other men involved, Derek Shepherd, 63, and Alan Wills, 46, had been convicted at earlier trials.

But kitchen fitter Machin – who was only known to the girls as ‘Joe’ – refused to admit his part in the ring. The final link was only conclusively revealed after Barrett decided to turn Queen’s evidence and unmask him.

During the trial it was revealed Machin had already been convicted of a sex attack on a 12-year-old in Cambridgeshire in 1988, serving a three-month sentence.

Machin’s sentence brings to an end a complex three-year investigation – which was to become Operation Lakeland – that began in December 2007 with the arrest of Barrett.

The investigators uncovered a series of horrifying crimes that took place in Hayle, Camborne, Falmouth and Penryn.

It also emerged that the men had used the holiday home owned by a Crown Court judge’s family in Flushing.

And it was revealed that the men had made contact with each other using coded messages scrawled on toilet walls at Foundry Square, Hayle, Rosewarne car park, Camborne, and on the seafront at Marazion.

At one stage Barrett allowed two unidentified men to abuse the girls in men’s toilets at a beach and in the back of his van for a payment of £5 to the children.

The investigation also threw up another man, Derek Shepherd, after his numbers were found on Barrett’s mobile phone.

Shepherd, a 64-year-old father-of-one from Ballards Close, Four Lanes, a self-styled inventor who was working on a parental wristband device to monitor children who wander off, was arrested in June 2008.

A computer seized at the time was discovered to have hundreds of indecent images of children on its hard drive. After admitting his offences he was given a two-year community order, a sexual offences prevention order and made to sign the sex offenders’ register.

By sickening coincidence, two of the girls who fell victim to Machin, Barrett and Wrey also fell into the clutches of another paedophile, Alan Wills.

Although prosecutors later said the 46-year-old was not connected to the ring, one of the girls insisted Barrett and he knew each other – a view shared by police.

It also means Wills’s trial, which came to an end last month, can be reported after legal restrictions were lifted.

Wills, a father-of-two of Lower Pengegon, Camborne, was jailed for 16 years after he sexually abused seven underage girls.

His home was later firebombed by a vigilante, Mark Cox, 42, of no fixed abode.

By then Wills had already fled the house and was hiding out in Spain. He only returned after he learnt police were about to issue a European arrest warrant.

Cox, pictured on page 5, was jailed for four years after pleading guilty to the attack and two further charges that he also burgled the property and stole televisions and electrical equipment in April last year. The £200,000 bungalow in Camborne was gutted by the blaze, which also destroyed a garden shed.

A sixth man, father-of-one David John Beckett, of The Beacon, St Agnes, was cleared of one joint offence of sexually abusing a girl with Wills.

In sentencing Machin, who had power washed his work van which is pictured here outside his former business, Duchy Kitchens, to get rid of any incriminating DNA evidence, Judge Christopher Elwen told him: “You are a degenerate paedophile who has damaged two very young children – their chances of ever coming to terms with what has happened, whether psychologically or physically, and live fulfilled lives is remote.

“This was meticulously planned and with an attempt to dispose of evidence that might have collected inside your van. The victims had already been abused by others and the offences were repeated.

“You have a previous conviction for indecently having assaulted a 12-year-old girl.

“When, in December 2008, I knew considerably less about what had been going on in the Camborne area I sentenced Barrett to 14 years.

“He had pleaded guilty. Wills was sentenced to 16 years.

“He fought the case but had no relevant previous convictions, nor was there any hint of a conspiracy which I consider very serious.” The judge said he now knew the depths of depravity to which he and his fellow conspirators had sunk.

But in view of those sentences it would be wrong to impose an indeterminate sentence on Machin, who was charged with conspiracy with Barrett and others to sexually assault children under the age of 13 and three counts of rape of a child under the age of 13.

He also faced five counts of possession of indecent photographs of a child ranging from level 1 to level 5 on the Copine (Combating Paedophile Information Networks In Europe) scale used to categorise the severity of child porn – 1 is the lowest, 5 the highest.

The porn charges came after an Acer laptop computer was found at his house with 6,000 files of child porn – evidence eliminator software was used to get rid of the vile images but police experts discovered file names relating to child porn as well as a few images.

On a Sony computer police discovered more child porn in cartoon form – at the time of the offence no legislation existed to bring charges, although the law has now changed.

Other evidence against Machin included him jet-washing the inside of his black Mercedes van in June 2008, ruining the dashboard.

The Crown argued he acted to obliterate any DNA left by the girls.

Charges included possession of 185 indecent photographs of children.

All counts relate to between December 31, 2000, and June 3, 2009.

One of the victims told how she had been given a bottle to sniff that ‘made her feel funny’ and described a sex toy – police found evidence of both at Machin’s home.

Defence solicitor Timothy Hills asked him: “Are you a paedophile. Are you Joe?”

Machin replied: “No – not at all.”

He said on possibly two occasions Barrett brought the girls to the house in Flushing when he was giving quotes for work and no sexual abuse took place.

He said he kept the keys for the house in the glove compartment of his van and at one point they had gone missing.

When asked if he thought Barrett took them he said he believed he had.

He said he power-washed his van to get rid of dust and dirt so he could take his wife Debra and grandchildren away camping.

In a sickening defence he used his own family to deflect and even muddy some of the compelling evidence against him.

He denied using the sex toys found at his home and said they belonged to his 27-year-old daughter, who worked for Ann Summers while at university in Derby.

But he admitted using poppers, an illegal drug, because, he claimed, he was suffering from erectile dysfunction.

When asked why he had an evidence eliminator on his computer he argued he downloaded music and movies and did not want to be prosecuted for copyright infringement.

And he denied child pornography found on two computers at his home was his and said other people in his household had access to both machines, including his wife, son, daughter and her boyfriend.

Jurors heard at a court hearing on October 4 that Machin handed Barrett a note telling him: “Keep telling yourself we didn’t do it and we’ll get away with it.”

Machin insisted the letter he wrote Barrett was intended to urge him to tell the truth that he (Machin) was not involved in the abuse.

The court had already heard Shepherd shared a similar appearance to Machin with greying beard and hair.

In his closing speech Mr Hills said Shepherd could have been Joe.

During cross-examination Jonathan Barnes put it to Machin: “You are a paedophile. That’s the truth.

“You are Joe and you used that name as cover – it was camouflage in case your collar was ever felt.”

Machin replied: “That is untrue.”

The court heard after Barrett was arrested he rang Machin to warn him the game was up.

When asked why Barrett had contacted him, he replied: “That was what John Barrett did. He would get himself in fixes and ring me for advice.”

Mr Barnes said: “The truth is Mr Machin that you abused these two very young girls on a number of occasions I suggest well over three occasions in the way each of them have graphically described.”

Machin must sign the Sex Offenders Register for the rest of his life and Judge Elwen also imposed a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, the conditions of which include a prohibition on downloading pornography, and being in the company of any child under 17 unless in the presence of a parent or guardian.

Defence counsel Timothy Hills, in mitigation, reminded the judge that Machin had lost his family and he was unlikely to work again as a skilled craftsman in a home where there were children.

Detective Inspector Simon Snell, who heads up Devon and Cornwall Police’s child exploitation unit, described it as a joint investigation also involving children’s services at Cornwall Council.

“This is an extremely complex operation involving a large number of offenders and victims, and some of the allegations are particularly distressing. I would like to pay tribute to my investigation team for all the efforts they have put into this investigation.”

Operation Lakeland – which involved a team of 12 officers – is not being wound up as it is possible more girls might come forward with evidence after the trial.

Detective Constable Martin Skinner said: “We’re obviously absolutely delighted the jury returned a unanimous verdict on all 10 counts.

“It was the right decision for the young victims he preyed on.

“It’s been a long investigation and we must recognise the bravery of these young people and their families in making sure justice is done, and also ensuring others are protected from these offenders in the future.”

During the trial the two young girls had to give evidence via a video-link to the court and were cross examined by defence barristers who accused them of making the events up.