A predator who recorded himself sexually abusing a young child before sharing the footage worldwide has been jailed after being caught by an international investigation.
Twenty-one-year-old Keenan Ridgway also took 318 images of him abusing his victim on two separate occasions in Lincolnshire, starting in 2018, which were also shared online.
Ridgway, of Croft Bank, Skegness, was later found with around 30,000 indecent and prohibited images on his devices and was found to have distributed more than 450, including those of babies.
At Lincoln Crown Court on Friday, David Eager, prosecuting, said Ridgway’s offending was first uncovered during an investigation by Essex Police, who found videos of the sexual assaults on the dark web in early 2020.
However, Ridgway was not identified and the investigation was closed.
But the National Crime Agency (NCA) then resumed enquiries after Interpol flagged that six images of the victim being sexually assaulted – which could be traced back to Lincolnshire – had been distributed to someone in Miami, in the US.
NCA investigations found more images of the defendant assaulting his victim on the dark web, and Ridgway was arrested in August 2021.
When the NCA later gained access to Ridgway’s iPhone, they found he had an account on a website which allowed paedophiles to trade and distribute indecent images, with a further 42 images of his victim and 355 other indecent photos and videos found in various folders and caches, including of children being raped.
Mr Eager said: “These images are now on the dark web. There is no way in which any authority can retrieve them.”
It was also discovered that Ridgway had sent 462 indecent images to others online.
In a victim statement written by the child’s mother, which was read in court by Mr Eager, she said Ridgway’s offending had broken her heart and added that she hoped he “rots in hell”. Ridgway sat emotionless throughout the hearing.
Julia King, defending, said that her client had no previous convictions and had “expressed disgust and remorse” over his offending, but acknowledged that anything other than a custodial sentence was “wholly unrealistic”.
She said: “He has worked to address quite how and why he finds himself before the Crown Court being sentenced for such serious matters.
“He is motivated, willing, and eager to engage with all relevant agencies.”
Ridgeway pleaded guilty on November 11 last year to 16 separate charges.
They were one count of assault of a child aged under 13 by penetration, one of possession of prohibited images, two of sexual assault of a child under 13, three of taking indecent photos of a child, three of possession of indecent photographs of a child and six of distributing indecent photographs of a child.
Sentencing, Judge Simon Hirst said: “This is not simply a case of sexual images being taken, but I have got to be mindful of the fact that not only did you take them, not only did you distribute them to like-minded individuals, but these are images that have gone worldwide.
“They will be there forever. They can never be removed.”
Ridgway was jailed for six years and three months for the assault by penetration, and given lesser, concurrent sentences for all other charges ranging between one month and two years, eight months.
He will serve half of that time in custody and has been made subject to a sexual harm prevention order for 10 years, as well as being placed on the sex offenders register for life.
Martin Ludlow, from the National Crime Agency (NCA), said: “(Ridgway’s) actions have caused trauma to those involved, the impact of which may be felt long after he has served his sentence.
“He has been convicted of a serious sexual assault. We know he did this on at least three occasions and then sent footage of the abuse to other paedophiles online.
“The NCA has the niche capabilities to identify high-risk offenders like Ridgway who pose a sexual threat to children. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure they are identified and brought to justice.”
A spokesperson for NSPCC said: “This deeply disturbing case shows in stark reality the suffering of child victims that lies behind abuse images which are being shared at record levels online.
“It also highlights the ease by which perpetrators such as Ridgeway can take advantage of technology to share illegal images and organise child abuse.
“It’s crucial that the Online Safety Bill which is going through Parliament robustly tackles online child sexual abuse and prevents this devastating material from being created and shared.”