A man from Swindon has pleaded guilty to being a ‘Global Moderator’ on a dark website dedicated to the sharing of child sexual abuse content.
Brett Saunders, 50, came to the attention of the National Crime Agency as part of an investigation into the hidden site, which had over 2,000 members and is only accessible using Tor.
The NCA focused on a moderator with the username ‘Wetty’, who was heavily involved in running the site. Wetty took responsibility for enforcing the site’s rules and responding to user enquiries, providing advice around personal security and how to evade law enforcement detection.
Saunders was identified as the man behind the account and further enquiries revealed he had previous convictions relating to the sexual exploitation of children.
NCA officers arrested Saunders at his home in Freshbrook in August 2022. A number of his devices were seized, including his laptop which he had hidden under a sofa cushion, and a phone and hard drive found by special search officers concealed in an air vent.
The website was open on his laptop and Saunders was logged into his account. When interviewed, he confirmed to officers that he held the rank of Global Moderator and had himself uploaded indecent images of children to the site.
He also admitted he had a sexual interest in children, particularly girls aged 8-12.
Investigators recovered data relating to his account, including over 3,000 posts made by him and private messages he sent to other users, which evidenced that his contribution was key to ensuring the site continued to function.
These also made it clear that Saunders had quickly risen through the ranks due to his commitment and encouragement of others to discuss and distribute images and videos of child sexual abuse.
When congratulated by another user on his promotion to Global Moderator he said:
“Thank you… I must say it came as a bit of a shock to me! Not sure what I did to deserve the honor, but whatever it was I will try to keep doing it to the best of my abilities!”
The site was run on a points-based system where users gained ‘reputation points’ for adhering to the rules and sharing abuse material. It had an initial guest portal, where new users had to gain at least 10 reputation points before they were admitted entry to the main site.
Saunders was in charge of running the guest portal and was responsible for issuing or deducting reputation points, as well as ultimately deciding who would be allowed through.
Saunders uploaded a total of 115 images and videos of abuse to the site. He posted two such images of a young girl as part of a discussion around the legalisation of pre-teen marriage, along with the caption:
“If only it were possible. I would wish for it if I found a magic lamp….and for her to stay about this age (10-12) forever (and me my age)!!”
A further 65,000 files relating to indecent images of children were recovered from his devices.
In the days after his arrest, Saunders was charged by Wiltshire Police for breaching the sexual harm prevention order that had been placed on him by the force when he was released from prison for his previous offending.
He was remanded in custody and later sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for the breach.
Last year, he was charged with a further nine counts, including arranging/facilitating the sexual exploitation of a child under 13, participating in the criminal activities of an organised crime group, distributing and making indecent images of children in categories A-C, and possessing a prohibited image of a child.
On Friday (19 January) at Swindon Magistrates Court he pleaded guilty to all nine counts. He will be sentenced at Swindon Crown Court on 5 March 2024.
Adam Priestley, Branch Commander at the NCA, said: “Brett Saunders was directly responsible for facilitating the sexual abuse of children.
“He became part of a global community of paedophiles to further his own sexual interest in children and his dedication to this platform was such that he was appointed as a moderator.
“It was clear he took this role extremely seriously, investing a significant amount of time to keeping the site up and running, on top of a full-time job.
“The site hosted horrific videos, images and discussions on child abuse, some of which Saunders posted himself or actively encouraged others to do so.
“He did this brazenly, clearly assuming he was protected by the dark web.
“The NCA is focused on targeting dark websites such as these, which play a huge role in the normalisation of offending. We have the capabilities to identify the highest harm offenders who try to hide in these spaces, and are committed to bringing them to justice.”
22 January 2024