The sexual depravity of a Hastings man who filmed the abuse of children to distribute to other paedophiles is the worst case a local detective has seen.
Aaron John Ellmers, 41, considered to be at the "absolute highest end" of child sex offending, was yesterday sentenced to preventive detention with a minimum of 20 years for 60 charges related to sexual offending against children andthe possession of child pornography.
Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Greig, part of the Eastern District Child Protection team, said the extent of the grooming and the steps the offender was prepared to take to secure access to an 18-month-old for sexual gratification set the case apart from others he had seen.
"The number of victims is not that uncommon, neither particularly is the age of the victims - but the overall circumstances set it apart," Mr Greig said.
"The extent of the grooming, the fact he recorded the abuse, the use of drugs to stupefy at least one of the victims and the steps he was prepared to take to engage in sexual activity with an infant.
"And the fact it's all been recorded and shared. That can never be taken back."
Mr Greig said what made it worse for the investigation team was the process of trying to identify the victims.
"We had the footage and we had a recording of him describing many of the details but we had to work to identify the victims. That's what made it very real for the team, we had to view all of those images and recordings.
"And then we had to tell the families. That was probably the worst bit for us. We really feel for them: However hard it was for us, it's nothing compared with what they've endured."
He said the news came as a complete shock to the families of the victims.
"For them there was shock, disbelief, denial. The sentencing was very difficult for them as it's probably the most detail they've had. It's very hard to hear."
The sentence of preventive detention came as a relief to the families, Mr Greig said, noting it was the best possible outcome in the situation.
"We believe it to be one of the longest, if not the longest, minimum parole periods for a sex offender ever. The families are relieved he will likely never be in a position to offend again - that's really important to them"
During his sentencing in High Court at Napier, Justice Edwin Wylie described the offending as "utterly depraved".
Despite the likely length of a finite sentence, Justice Wylie did not believe it would be adequate to protect the community from a man he said had "wormed" his way into a position of trust. Only the High Court could impose a sentence of preventive detention. He would be released only if authorities were satisfied he no longer represented a significant risk to the public.
Among the 60 charges detailing horrific acts of abuse were dozens relating to the possession and trading of child pornography; images and materials which the court heard were said to number in the thousands on Ellmers' computer.
Ellmers bowed his head during sentencing to avoid the media cameras, while a relative of one victim wept in the public gallery.
After reading victim impact statements, Justice Wylie said it was clear his offending had "a very real impact on both families".
"His [victim's] mother explains how her world was blown apart when she became aware of the offending," he said. She had lost her "will to function" and lost her job because she was not prepared to leave her children alone. "The family has become extremely protective and they were devastated when they found out about the abuse.
"There is a very real concern the effects on the children will only become apparent when they get older. It is readily apparent that you are a serial paedophile."
The 60 charges included sexual violation, making an intimate visual recording, dealing in people for sexual exploitation and attempted sexual conduct with a child aged under 12. Many charges were representative, meaning the offences occurred on numerous occasions.
Two other men have appeared in courts across the country facing charges in relation to an alleged paedophile ring Ellmers was a part of. The specialist police team which first identified Ellmers (Oceanz - Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand) made 35 referrals to overseas jurisdictions, including Australia, the UK, the US and Canada.
Offending against the first victim started when the child was three - after he made significant steps to groom the child. Another victim was aged nine when the offending started. This child was plied with money and given alcohol and cannabis. There was video evidence of the offending on a camera memory card in Ellmers' possession.
A third potential victim was a child aged 18 months. Ellmers had flown across the country and paid $500 to the child's father for "sexual gratification" with the toddler, but was arrested before he had the chance.
The father, a 27-year-old from South Canterbury whose name is suppressed, pleaded guilty to multiple sex offences in March and was due to be sentenced next month.
WHAT THE PRE-SENTENCE REPORT SAID
"Mr Ellmers is very skilled at presenting himself in a manner to suit his own ends and has demonstrated this in his ability to convince parents to have him care for their children without arising any suspicions on their part. However, his actions provide one with the opportunity to evaluate his true character and his benign presentation conceals a callous nature where his focus is on fully satisfying his own deviant sexual needs with no consideration for the rights and feelings of his victims and their families.
"Mr Ellmers also manifests a sense of arrogance with his rapid return to offending following his incarceration in Australia. His skill at obtaining victims and grooming parents likely provides him with a measure of pride and satisfaction."
AARON ELLMERS' CONVICTIONS
Aaron John Ellmers was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia in 1999 to take up employment as a truck driver.
In 2005 he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for rape, attempted rape and five counts of indecent treatment of a child under 12. This was for several months of abuse of an 8-year-old boy he had groomed.
He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in late 2005. He was deported back to New Zealand after serving 18 months of his sentence and having undertaken counselling.