An Australian Federal Police-led investigation has smashed open a domestic online network of alleged child sex offenders, who are accused of abusing and exploiting Australian children and recording the horrific crimes to share with others.
Nine men across three states - New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia - have been charged, with the two most recent arrests made in the NSW mid-north coast town of Kendall, where toddler William Tyrrell disappeared in September 2014.
The two men lived in the town at the time the three-year-old disappeared from his foster-grandmother's home, according to reports by The Australian, though neither have ever been interviewed about the case.
AFP Assistant Commissioner for the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), Lesa Gale, refused to comment on the Tyrrell investigation at a press conference today, referring questions to NSW Police.
An inquest to examine how Tyrrell vanished will resume in October.
Gale said at least 14 children have been saved from further harm, as a result of the national police investigation into individuals allegedly producing and sharing child abuse material.
"We suspect this is the biggest domestic child exploitation network uncovered in recent times," she told reporters.
"Operation Arkstone has shaken some of our most seasoned officers."
"My message today to those offenders watching this presser: We are coming. We are coming for you."
Gale said the children were aged between four and seven.
Two men, aged 21 and 26, from the NSW mid-north coast are the latest arrests in Operation Arkstone, launched earlier this year after a tip-off from the United States' National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children to the AFP's ACCCE.
Yesterday, investigators from the AFP Eastern Command Child Protection Operations, the NSW Police Force Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad and Mid North Coast Police Area Command executed search warrants at premises in the towns of Kendall and Old Bar.
The 26-year-old man was charged with two counts of sexual intercourse with child under the age of 10 years, two counts of produce child abuse material and two counts of possess/control child abuse material using carriage service.
The 21-year-old was charged with six counts of sexual intercourse with child under the age of 10 years and possess child abuse material.
Both men were refused bail and faced Kempsey Local Court today, where they were remanded in custody to appear at Port Macquarie Local Court on Thursday, September 10.
Another seven men from NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have previously been charged as part of this investigation – which began with the arrest of a man on the NSW Central Coast. Further analysis of material seized during that, and subsequent investigations, led to yesterday's activity on the Mid North Coast.
Police allege that analysis of evidence seized during each arrest helped identify other suspected offenders.
Ms Gale said police would allege in court that some of the accused men had sexually abused children known to them and recorded videos and photographs of the abuse to share with others online.
"The efforts of all officers involved in the investigation has resulted in at least 14 children removed from harmful situations, and saved from abuse in the future," she said.
"We are continuing to try to identify other children who we suspect were preyed on by individuals in the alleged network.
"It is heartbreaking to think of any child being sexually abused, but it strengthens our resolve to hunt down perpetrators and bring them to justice.
"Sexual abuse has a devastating impact on children and their families, and that abuse continues each and every time an image or video showing that crime is shared."
The ACCCE, headquartered in Brisbane, uses a range of investigative techniques to help police across Australia track down anyone who preys on children – in person or online.
"Use of encrypted applications or systems will not enable you to stay anonymous – we have the capabilities and the will to track you down and arrest you," Assistant Comm Gale said.
NSW Police State Crime Command's Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, said investigating heinous crimes such as these is a priority for all law enforcement agencies.
"The despicable acts that we will allege in court that these men have committed are punishable with life imprisonment, such is this seriousness of the offences," Det Supt Kerlatec said.
"Along with our partnering agencies, NSW Police will continue to be relentless in our efforts to put people who sexually abuse children before the courts."
Assistant Comm Gale pleaded with parents who couldn't "bear to hear this type of offending" not to turn away.
"Please do not walk away from the television, please do not turn the volume down. Please turn the volume up. We need you to listen, we need you to be vigilant," she said.
"Child exploitation in Australia is becoming more prolific. The victims are getting younger and younger. This type of offending is becoming more violent and brazen. The AFP do not want to turn up at your door to tell you that your child is the victim of sexual abuse or exploitation."
She advised parents to be vigilant, establish trust with their children so that they feel confident to come to them if they are concerned, and to gather any evidence that they may have that something could be happening with their child.
Members of the public who have any information about people involved in child abuse and exploitation are urged to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.