David Nicholas Wilson targeted at least 500 children
David Nicholas Wilson targeted at least 500 children

One of Britain’s most prolific paedophiles, who targeted at least 500 children, would not have been caught under Facebook’s proposed end-to-end encryption plans, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Appearing at Ipswich Crown Court on Monday, labourer David Nicholas Wilson, 36, admitted 96 sex abuse offences against 51 boys aged four to 14, whom he conned into sending him sexual images or blackmailed into abusing their younger siblings or friends.

The NCA investigation uncovered evidence that Wilson, who pretended to be multiple teenage girls online, managed to persuade 500 boys to send sexual abuse images to his fake identities and had approached more than 5,000 boys globally.

The NCA found 250,000 messages communicating with boys in his Facebook, Snapchat, Google and Instagram accounts after obtaining access to them through an International Letter of Request to the US authorities.

However, his web of abuse would not have been exposed without Facebook providing 90 referrals of suspect accounts linked to Wilson – evidence that would not be available if the social media giant goes ahead with its encryption plans, said Rob Jones, the NCA director of threat leadership.

Mr Jones said: “It’s chilling to think Wilson wouldn’t have been caught if Facebook had already implemented their end-to-end encryption plans which will entirely prevent access to message content. The NCA, wider law enforcement and child safety groups are clear that the [encryption] move will turn the lights out for policing and effectively provide cover for offenders such as Wilson.

“Facebook Messenger is already protected by strong encryption that still enables the company to detect grooming and known abuse images. It was Facebook’s initial identification of Wilson’s accounts in June and July 2017 which provided the intelligence that started this investigation.

“Content obtained from Facebook Messenger conversations was also crucial throughout the operation. Had that content been end-to-end encrypted, there is a real risk that justice would not have been served and Wilson would still be abusing victims today.”

It follows calls by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and her counterparts in the “Five Eyes” intelligence network of countries for Facebook to allow law enforcement agencies lawful access to suspects communications rather than blanket encryption which means even it cannot access messages.

Wilson was told by judge Rupert Overbury on Monday that he faces a lengthy prison term when he is sentenced on January 12.

Using unregistered phones, Wilson sent sexual images of young women from the internet in exchange for the boys sending him videos and images of themselves. He built up trust with his victims before blackmailing them into sending him more extreme footage of themselves – and in some cases, of them abusing younger siblings or friends.

On some occasions, he then distributed the images to victims’ friends. He showed no compassion even when some victims begged him to stop, according to the NCA. Some of the children were so distressed that they spoke of wanting to end their lives.

His activities were first detected in summer 2017 when Facebook identified 20 accounts of boys ranging from 12 to 15 years old, who had sent indecent images of themselves to an account seemingly belonging to a 13-year-old girl.

The material was forwarded to the NCA for investigation by NCMEC – the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children – which receives industry referrals before disseminating them to law enforcement agencies to investigate.

It was forwarded to the NCA, which found IP addresses used to commit the offences linked to Wilson’s address, CCTV footage of him buying a top-up voucher for a phone number linked to one of the accounts and the phone used to commit some of the offences hidden in his bedroom.

Tony Cook, NCA head of CSA operations, said: “David Wilson is a prolific offender who has caused heartbreaking suffering to some of the boys and their families in this case.

“He was able to gain the boys’ trust and exploit their use of social media using well practiced techniques to convince them he was genuinely a young female who was interested in them.

“He then manipulated or forced them to send images of themselves or other children which he craved.  

“He knew the anguish victims were suffering but ignored any pleas from them to stop until he got what he wanted from them.

“Wilson retained material the children had sent and used the threat of sharing it among their friends to control them.

“I commend the victims and their families for their bravery in helping the prosecution and our investigators for painstakingly and tenaciously proving Wilson was responsible.

“Wilson is an example of adult sexual offenders who use the internet to hide their real identities, using plausible online personas to exploit children.

“We know children are increasingly sharing personal material on social media sites but I would implore them to think carefully about their interactions online and be aware of the hurt and long-term damage manipulative offenders like Wilson cause.”  

A Facebook spokesman said: “Child exploitation and grooming have no place on our platforms. Facebook has led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect, and respond to abuse and we will continue to work with law enforcement to combat criminal activity.

“End-to-end encryption is already the leading technology used by many services to keep people safe and we will build on our strong anti-abuse capabilities at WhatsApp when we roll it out on our other messaging services. For example, through a combination of advanced technology and user reports, WhatsApp bans around 250,000 accounts each month suspected of sharing child exploitative imagery.” 



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