A Harrogate paedophile, who downloaded more than 30,000 indecent images of children and offered to sell sexual images of young people online in return for Bitcoin and Amazon gift cards, has been jailed for two years.
Stuart Witham’s “vast” collection of images included videos featuring children as young as five, York Crown Court heard.
Witham, 31, shared images with others in a WhatsApp, group or ‘network’, called ‘Schoolgirls in Stockings’.
Prosecutor Brooke Morrison said Witham was also having video chats on a dark website called ‘Illegal’, where he would perform lewd acts in front of women and young girls and encourage them to do the same.
The father-of-two was also active on the KIK private-messenger app on which he “offered to sell quantities of indecent images in exchange for Bitcoin and gift cards”.
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He was finally caught when an undercover police officer joined the WhatsApp group posing as a member and began chatting with Witham, who sent him indecent images of youngsters and “bragged” about his vile collection of illicit images.
Police turned up at his detached home in central Harrogate and brought him in for questioning, when he owned up immediately to his depraved behaviour.
He was charged with three counts of making indecent images of children, two counts of distributing indecent images and one count of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child under 13 years of age.
Witham, of Back Mayfield Terrace, admitted all the offences and appeared for sentence yesterday.
Ms Morrison told the court:
“The defendant was a member of a WhatsApp group in which he and other adults (had sexual discussions about) and shared indecent images of children.”
Trapped by undercover police
In June 2021, Witham had a WhatsApp chat with a man he presumed to be another member of the group, but who was in fact an undercover officer. Ms Morrison added:
“The defendant shared indecent images with the officer and showed him his collection of material.”
After being trapped by the undercover cop, officers visited Witham’s home and seized his internet devices. Forensic analysis revealed a huge cache of indecent material, namely 32,708 photos and videos of children – some of them extremely young.
They included 3,800 images of children rated Category A in their level of seriousness and featuring the sexual abuse of minors.
Ms Morrison said police also found chats on Witham’s KIK messenger account in which offered to sell indecent images of children in exchange for digital currency and gift vouchers.
She said forensic officers also found over 40 videos or “screen-recorded conversations” on the ‘Illegal’ website which “pairs users with each other randomly…with anyone across the world”.
“Those recordings show that whenever (Witham) was matched with another male, he quickly skipped onto the next user,” she added.
“As soon as he was paired with an adult woman or child, he would begin (performing a lewd act) on screen.”
Witham would move the camera so that the other user would see him doing the act. On other occasions, he would message the user urging them to “show themselves” and to perform similar acts.
In one video chat, Witham performed a sexual act in front of a nine-year-old girl and asked the child to “show (their) body on camera”.
Analysis of his internet search history revealed he had sought out “hidden-camera instructions” and covertly filmed children walking past his house from his window.
During police questioning, Witham admitted that he had sought out indecent images of children since he was 12 years of age. He was charged only with the online offences committed in 2021.
Defence barrister Lucy Brown said Witham, a working man who was married at the time, had undergone cognitive behavioural therapy and sought help from an offenders’ rehabilitation charity to try to curb his nefarious online behaviour.
She asked judge Simon Hickey to consider suspending the inevitable prison sentence, citing Witham’s “very traumatic” childhood and his deep remorse.
But Mr Hickey said it had to be an immediate jail sentence due to the “vast” number of images found on Witham’s devices.
He said although Witham had led an “industrious life” and had taken steps to reform himself, only an immediate prison sentence could be justified for such behaviour.
Witham, who wore a grey suit in the dock, was jailed for two years and ordered to sign on the sex-offenders’ register for 10 years.
He was also given a 10-year sexual-harm-prevention order to curb his internet activities and contact with children.