WARNING: This story contains descriptions and language associated with child sex offending. Please take care. If you've experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential Safe to Talk crisis helpline on: 0800 227 233.

He was a community board chairman, company director, property owner, landlord and respected member of the community.

On the surface Martin Henry Lawes was an all-round good bloke who lived a good life.

But behind closed doors Lawes had a very dirty, disturbing and damaging secret.

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He was paying tens of thousands of dollars to watch little girls in the Philippines perform in live sex shows online.

READ MORE:
Former North Shore community board chairman Martin Lawes jailed for live streaming child sex shows

He was downloading images of children exposing their genitals, and participating in sex with other kids and adults.

He was engaging in conversations across the internet with underage girls, directing them to perform sexual acts on themselves and others by typing instructions.

Lawes was a child sex offender and for years he got away with it - until he popped up on the FBI radar.

Martin Lawes at sentencing in the High Court at Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph by Greg Bowker
Martin Lawes at sentencing in the High Court at Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph by Greg Bowker

Today Lawes was sentenced in the High Court at Auckland to four years and six months for his offending.

Justice Edwin Wylie branded Lawes' offending serious, repetitive and consistent.

Justice Edwin Wylie. Photo / File
Justice Edwin Wylie. Photo / File

He said the offending was aggravated due to the extent of Lawes' online crimes, his planning and premeditation and the young age of the victims which made them "particularly vulnerable".

The fact the children were in a poverty-stricken country was also an aggravating factor as well as the "considerable and likely permanent" impact on the children was another factor.

"Your abuse of the children was at the higher end… You were paying to have the children used as toys," said Justice Wylie.

The Herald can now reveal the full details of Lawes' years of child exploitation and how his offending was exposed.

Police have also revealed Lawes is one of a growing number of offenders using live sex streaming to abuse children - a huge concern for law enforcement agencies across the globe.

Lawes' offending began before 2008.

According to the police summary of facts, provided to the Herald, he created a Yahoo email address in the name of Tony Henry.

Using this alias he made contact with several other Yahoo users based in the Philippines.

Lawes later began communicating with "many different women" who he would instruct to perform sex acts for him on camera as he watched on his computer in Auckland.

He would then send payments for the "shows" through third party money remitter Western Union.

Initially those payments were made in the name of Tony Henry - but Lawes would also use his wife's maiden name in an effort to conceal his activities.

Legislative changes were then introduced requiring Lawes to provide ID and make all transactions in his own name.

Soon after, Lawes' account was restricted due to the "suspicious nature" of his cash transfers.

That didn't stop him though - he began using PayPal to fund his online activity.

Police estimate that between 2008 and 2017 when he was arrested, Lawes had
transferred more than $100,000 to receivers based in the Philippines - including multiple payments to a couple in Iligan City.

It was the Iligan City payments that finally led to Lawes' arrest.

In September 2017 the FBI contacted the New Zealand Police about Lawes.

They had been investigating a child sex ring in Iligan City and believed Lawes was connected in some way.

Police here then seized two computer hard drives and a laptop from Lawes' home on the North Shore, handing the devices over to Customs for forensic analysis.

The three computers contained almost 300 media files - images and videos - showing the exploitation or sexual abuse of children.

Many files depicted "pre pubescent and young teenage children" exposing their genitals and engaged in "sexual play" with other children or being abused by adults.



One series of images showed a group of young teenage girls of Southeast Asian origin in bathing suits swimming and singing karaoke, then removing their clothing, posing in a sexually provocative manner and engaging in sexual activity with each other.

Another set of images showed some of the same girls "engaged in sexualised posing and sexual play with each other" in a pink-walled room.

Police were also able to analyse Lawes' multiple Yahoo accounts including his emails, chat logs and associated image files.

They found "extensive" communications between Lawes and adults in the Philippines.

A number of emails sent to Lawes contained images of young people being sexually exploited in various ways.

One of the adults in Philippines told Lawes: "I make a sexy video for you… I really need your help for the girls enrolment and also buy them a school supply… you're the one can help girl's school…"

Later that day she sent a three-minute video showing two naked girls getting dressed.

Throughout the video one of the girls exposes her vagina and the camera "focuses heavily on the genitalia of both girls" a number of times.

The woman sent further videos and images, saying "please hun hope you can help us today hun for the girls schooling please".

Another adult Lawes communicated with was paid $4684 for live streamed sex shows.

Some of the shows Lawes accessed involved only adults but many involved children between 7 and 17 performing sexual acts on themselves or others.

During the shows Lawes would direct what he wanted the children to do by giving typed instructions.

Martin Lawes at his first appearance in the North Shore District Court earlier this year. NZ Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
Martin Lawes at his first appearance in the North Shore District Court earlier this year. NZ Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

A transcript of such communication between Lawes and a 12-year-old girl was provided to the court.

After asking the girl's age and being told she was 12, Lawes gives her various instructions.

As she obeys, he types responses including "yummy" and "hard 4 u".

Police also found Skype messaging between Lawes and an adult woman who identified herself as "Donna".

In return for payment - or at least the promise of payment - Donna sent Lawes photos of her children aged 3, 4 and 7 as well as her 13-year-old neighbour.

All the images depicted the children in sexualised poses.

Lawes communicated with Donna more than 6000 times and she sent numerous "objectionable images showing the exploitation or abuse of children".

Lawes would often try to delete the messages and images, and instructed Donna to do the same.

Lawes was arrested in September 2017 and appeared in the North Shore District Court on October 3 charged with possession of objectionable publications, being knowingly concerned in the importation of objectionable publications and entering into a dealing involving a person under 18 for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Once police had combed through Lawes' computers they were able help authorities in the Philippines to identify Donna.

Staff from the Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (OCEANZ) specialist team worked closely with the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation's anti-trafficking division to locate the woman and her family.

When the tracked her down her children were 4, 5 and 7 - and she was heavily pregnant.

Donna's home was raided in November 2017 and she and her partner were caught in the middle of a live stream with the three youngsters.

Lawes tried to hide from the media after leaving his first court appearance. He refused to comment at the time. NZ Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs
Lawes tried to hide from the media after leaving his first court appearance. He refused to comment at the time. NZ Herald photograph by Brett Phibbs

The couple and three others were identified as the organisers of a child sex ring and are currently before the courts in the Philippines facing charges of human trafficking, child pornography, child abuse and cybercrime.

Police are confident that had Donna not been stopped, her new baby could have been also subjected to sexual abuse.

After Lawes was arrested he was interviewed by police about his offending.

The Herald understands officers were "appalled" at his attitude towards the crimes he had committed.

The summary of facts stated that Lawes admitted the offending - but said he "mostly" viewed sex shows involving adults.

"He stated that the amount of money sent by him was not a significant amount as he was a multimillionaire," the summary explained.

"He also stated that he was helping the people involved by giving them money as they were often living in poverty.

"He further stated that he was exploited by the people he dealt with in the Philippines as opposed to him exploiting the children involved."

Police here have rejected Lawe's defence of his actions saying his crimes were blatant child sex offending and as bad as if he had physically harmed the victims.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael of OCEANZ said Lawes' assertion that he was "helping" was "totally wrong".

"At the end of the day what we've got is an adult in another country directing the abuse of a child," he said.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, head of police Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand, spoke to the Herald about the Lawes case. NZ Herald photograph
Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, head of police Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand, spoke to the Herald about the Lawes case. NZ Herald photograph

"There is little distinction between that and being there in person."

Michael said that in 2012 live child sex streaming was identified by Interpol as an "emerging" crime type that was not even considered fully established.

But now, it's becoming rampant.

Traditionally, live sex shows have been based mainly in the Philippines but international agencies are now reporting activity across the globe.

"It's definitely spread," Michael said.

"It's linked to poverty - wherever you find poverty, there's a chance you will find this type of offending.

"It's seen as an easy way to make money, and relatively low risk by the organisers."

Michael said increasingly, offenders like Lawes set up online relationships then ended up travelling overseas to offend in person - either by directing the abuse or participating in it.

"One thing we want to do is highlight the phenomenon of not just live streaming, but also sex tourism," he explained.

"Martin Lawes highlights this crime type and this is a deterrent for people who might travel overseas to offend.

"There's certainly a fair number of these sort of cases and a very link has been established between offenders who go online [and live stream child sex shows] and then travel."

Michael said offending like Lawes had perpetrated was difficult to investigate, but police and global authorities were working hard to stamp
out as much as possible.

He said live streaming sex shows like Lawes had left little electronic record so evidence was hard to obtain.

"Unless offenders record it, we might not be able to identify the fact they have been involved," he explained.

Police say online live streaming of sex shows involving children is increasing globally. Martin Lawes is just one many possible Kiwi offenders. NZ Herald file photograph
Police say online live streaming of sex shows involving children is increasing globally. Martin Lawes is just one many possible Kiwi offenders. NZ Herald file photograph

The fact that the offending crossed multiple international jurisdictions also made investigating difficult.

But authorities in the lower socio-economic countries at the centre of the abuse were now actively hunting abusers and many had set up dedicated police units to stop and prevent abuse.

"It means they can investigate it much more effectively," he said.

"And international partnerships are so important - New Zealand police got onto this through a referral by the FBI.

"But for that referral, Martin Lawes may not have been apprehended."

Michael said OCEANZ worked "really closely" with child protection teams across the 12 New Zealand police districts as well as Customs and other agencies - to identify anyone involved in offending like Lawes.

"Often the information we get is limited so we have to work it up to have enough information and evidence to satisfy the grounds for a search warrant," he said.

"With this case we spent a fair amount of time doing other inquiries to reach that threshold.

"But once he'd been arrested we were able to obtain more information that led us to identify the organisers in the Philippines and further victims."

The children Lawes had abused will likely suffer the after effects of his offending for the rest of their lives.

"At the end of the day, child sexual abuse is a terrible crime and can have a permanent effect on victims," said MIchael.

"[In cases like this] you've got your own parents or family member actually putting you in the situation and that's a massive betrayal of trust.

"These people see it as a legitimate income source and that's just terrible - it's just the worst thing out."

Michael said many offenders were like Lawes - married or family men, well respected in their communities who have never been on the police radar in their lives.

Lawes' offending started with emailing people in Asia and progressed to him directing children on live streams to participate in sexual activity. NZ Herald file photograph
Lawes' offending started with emailing people in Asia and progressed to him directing children on live streams to participate in sexual activity. NZ Herald file photograph

"Lawes emphasises the point - he's got no criminal history, he's been a public figure," he said.

"These are the type of people we find… we often come across people who have never come to police attention before."

He said arresting men like Lawes and helping children break free from abuse - both here and overseas - was "really satisfying".

Lawes' case was the first time OCEANZ had worked alongside the Filipino authorities - but they had worked with other Asian and European countries to rescue abused children, including the Ukraine most recently.

"Martin Lawes was a really good example of the results we can achieve through collaboration," he said.

"In some cases the organisers are not related to the children - they are recruited from their families under false promises like domestic work.

"Or they offer homeless children or street kids a place to stay or food, and then involve them in this criminal activity.

"On the other hand there are parents and caregivers of children that unfortunately see
this as legitimate income.

"It will keep going, there's money to be made."

Michael said police would also keep working to stop child sex abusers.

"We'll keep doing our job… if you're going to engage in that kind of behaviour, if you think you can sit there and get away with it, you've got another thing coming.

"We'll catch up with you eventually.

"There's no two ways about it."

When police caught up with Lawes shockwaves rippled through his community and family.

The 75-year-old has two children and a number of grandchildren.

He has been married to his second wife for 23 years and the couple lived in a million dollar home in Torbay on the North Shore.

When details of his offending emerged some of his family stood by him, but many walked away.

Tenants in the buildings he owned in Takapuna's town centre and beyond were appalled, gobsmacked that the man they had known as a respectable landlord had been involved in such heinous offending.

At sentencing Justice Wylie acknowledged Lawes' "previous good character".

Justice Edwin Wylie. Photo / File
Justice Edwin Wylie. Photo / File

He owned businesses and property and worked his way into the heart of the community to the point he was elected as chairman of the Takapuna board.

"You have been generous to many, donated tens of thousands of dollars to people in need, you have been involved in community groups, you've shown both a commitment to and contributed to the wider community," he said.

Justice Wylie branded Lawes' offending as "serious" and said it made no difference whether he was physically offending against the children or doing it from a distance.

Child sex offending was child sex offending, he said.

"At no time did you seek to extract yourself from the situation… the children were abused and exploited at your direction and for your gratification," he added.

Justice Wylie said he was "not persuaded" by Lawes' claim he was remorseful.

He sentenced Lawes to a total of four years and six months in prison, after giving him a 25 per cent discount for his guilty plea and small discounts for previous good character, his age, his co-operating with police and donating to the charities.

Justice Wylie also ordered Lawes to be added to the Child Sex Offender Register.

WHAT IS LIVE STREAM SEXUAL ABUSE?

Lawes' offending is, sadly, not uncommon.

An increasing number of people are turning to the internet to view live streams of child sexual abuse, also known as live distant child abuse.

The offender directs the abuse of children in a different country via an internet video sharing platform.

The abuse can be tailored to the requests of the soliciting offender and also be recorded so they can further disseminate the horrendous acts to online peers, usually through the Dark Web.

According to police, the majority of the child victims of live distant abuse are based in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines.

But the problem has been spreading further in recent years and regions with high levels of poverty, limited child protection measures and easy access to young people are now being targeted by offenders.

In many cases the child's own parent facilitates the abuse.

In the Philippines, the young victims are paid about $4.50 to participate in a live webcam show.

WHAT IS CHILD SEX TOURISM?

CST is defined as travel abroad to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child under the age of 18.

Some CST offenders, usually novices to the commercial sex trade, plan their travel through locally-based tour companies or tour operators, whereas other offenders plan their travel independently.

Information on procuring children in foreign destinations is readily available in paedophile newsgroups and forums on the internet.

In certain countries where there is a thriving commercial sex industry, such information can be obtained through taxi drivers, hotel concierges and newspaper advertisements.

Studies show Southeast Asian countries—particularly Cambodia, the Philippines, and Thailand—are the most common destinations for child sex tourism.

Latin American countries such as Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil are also emerging destinations for CST.

WHAT IS OCEANZ?

The Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (Oceanz) team is a specialist Police unit.

It works as part of an international taskforce, the Virtual Global Taskforce, to protect children from online child abuse.

• co-ordinates international investigations into online paedophile networks

• identifies child sexual offenders by monitoring social network websites

• targets New Zealand child exploitation sites, including those producing images and abuse for financial gain, in an effort to identify and rescue victims.

• gathers intelligence for sharing with District-based child exploitation squads, the Department of Internal Affairs, Customs and international partners.

If you have concerns about someone who may be offending against children or using the internet or other electronic means in an inappropriate or criminal way, please contact police by email using

WORKING TOGETHER TO STAMP OUT ABUSE

The New Zealand police are part of the FBI-led Violent Crimes Against Children International Task Force (VCACITF).

"The VCACITF is a select cadre of international law enforcement experts working together to formulate and deliver a dynamic global response to crimes against children through the establishment and furtherance of strategic partnerships, the aggressive engagement of relevant law enforcement, and the extensive use of liaison, operational support, and coordination," the FBI website states.

SEXUAL ABUSE - WHERE TO GET HELP

If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.​

If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline on: 0800 227 233 (08002B SAFE).

If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.

If you believe someone you know is perpetrating sexual abuse either in New Zealand, overseas or online -

.

Any information you have could stop or prevent someone being abused in future.