A key member of one of Britain’s worst ever paedophile gangs, which groomed a pregnant mother so they could attack her baby and film their abuse, has been jailed for 20 years.
Mathew Law had been previously caught and jailed for child sex offences but was released and later deemed not to need any special measures, the Guardian has learned.
Law, 50, was the last of the gang of eight men to be caught, convicted and now sentenced at Bristol crown court.
The horrific abuse by the gang and the extent to which members targeted one of their victims while he was in his mother’s womb, and groomed his parents, has staggered experienced investigators.
The National Crime Agency, which investigated the gang of eight, still cannot break into computers owned by Law, an IT expert. He used TOR software to communicate securely.
Law was convicted of conspiring to rape a baby that was abused by gang members over a period of months.
Gang members also abused a child aged three in the United Kingdom, and remotely directed the abuse via video-conferencing of young children overseas. Those victims were mostly in the United States.
Seven of the gang had previously been convicted and jailed for a total of 107 years, in trials that started in 2015.
One member, Robin Hollyson, befriended a couple while the mother was pregnant.
Ian Glover, a senior investigator with the NCA, said: “He lived near the parents and became family friends. He was involved in looking after the victim while the parents were at work. He ingratiated himself with the family. My view is he absolutely made friends in order to carry out the attacks.”
Glover added: “There is nothing the family could have done differently apart from don’t trust anyone.”
The parents were described as conscientious, hardworking, and blameless in the nightmare that unfolded.
When Hollyson babysat he would let other paedophiles know and they would travel for hours.
Luke Phillips, who led the investigation into Law, said the paedophile gang was feared to be one of the worst ever in Britain, adding: “Offenders would travel up to four hours across the country to have 20-30 minutes with the baby boy. They filmed the abuse.”
The gangs came from as far north as Hull, and as far south as Portsmouth. They came together via dating apps and events, as well as through paedophile forums.
One, Matthew Lisk, was a steward for British Airways, one was married and had two children of his own, and Hollyson died after conviction in prison.
The investigation in Britain into the group identified scores of other suspected paedophiles, triggering 240 new inquiries, most abroad but more than 70 in the UK.
Law, the last gang member to be caught, was first convicted of owning and distributing indecent images in 1999, the NCA said. He was jailed for 15 months and placed on the sex offenders register for a decade, with the offending he was jailed for on Thursday occurring after he was freed from supervision.
There has been a long debate about how dangerous those who view images of abuse are, compared with those who carry out abuse. Investigators in this case say those who started viewing images, escalated to carrying out the worst abuse they have ever seen.
Phillips said: “I have been in the police 20 years. I have never seen anything like this. These people had fantasies about carrying out acts. When you look at the amount of child abuse images available globally, this is a serious and developing problem.”
A spokesperson for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said: “Viewing, sharing or making sexual images of children is a crime and should be treated as such. It must not be forgotten that behind every image there is a child being abused, and re-victimised each time the image is shared and viewed.“
Phillips said Law believed he would not be caught, so careful had he been about security and convinced encryption would hide his offending. “I saw the look on his face when I charged him,” Phillips said. “He believed he had got away with it. It was a look of surprise. He was shaking.”