Court hears of paedophile's alleged 'fantasy' plot to rape a baby
A paedophile accused of conspiring to rape a baby has told a jury he was acting out a "fantasy" - and had no intention of abusing a young child.
Former actor John Denham, 49, described plans allegedly hatched online with two others - Robin Hollyson, 30, and Christopher Knight, 35 - to rape a baby as "complete pie in the sky".
Bristol Crown Court has heard how members of the gang raped and abused a baby and a pre-school child in attacks that were live streamed over the internet.
Some would travel long distances to carry out the attacks together or watch a live stream using hi-tech video conferencing software if only one had access to the victim.
Five of the gang - Hollyson and Knight, as well as Adam Toms, 33; David Harsley, 51, and Matthew Lisk, 32 - have pleaded guilty to a range of offences, including rape of a child and conspiracy to rape a child during 2013 and 2014.
Father of two Denham and co-accused Matthew Stansfield, 34, have denied conspiracy to rape a child and are on trial. Members of the gang would contact each other using Skype, video conferencing software and other online chatrooms.
The court heard how the incident involving Denham was to have taken place on January 17 last year in Bedfordshire but did not happen because Hollyson - who had access to the victim - was detained in hospital.
Denham, who was previously known as Benjamin Harrop, denied that he was planning to take part and explained he actually met Knight for a coffee at Victoria Station in London because he was in the capital on business.
"It was all complete pie in the sky. It wasn't going ahead," Denham told the court.
"When you get into these sorts of conversations, in my mind it's fantasy. I didn't think any of that stuff is going to happen."
Denham also said that at that time he did not believe that the baby existed - although he agreed that months later he was sent a video showing Hollyson raping the child.
The events manager told the jury that he started using his computer to look at adult pornography online and while doing this he found an image of a young teenage girl performing a sex act on a man.
"I was oddly fascinated by it, it wasn't something I had seen before," the recovering alcoholic told the court.
Denham said that that as he became "desensitised" by what was appearing on his computer screen the age range "dropped lower and lower".
"Towards the very end of my behaviour I was looking at babies and toddlers. I am ashamed of that," he said.
"I know now there are real victims in it but it didn't seem real - it wasn't reality for me at that time.
"When I wasn't online and when I was in the real world I viewed children as they should be viewed. I didn't look at them in a sexual way at all."
He said he used file sharing software to access indecent images held by other paedophiles and was later introduced to The Onion Room - part of a system known as the "dark web" to hide online activity - where he could meet others with similar interests.
"I am ashamed to say it, I did get a sexual gratification out of it," he said.
The court heard that Denham also used Skype to chat online with other paedophiles, in which their conversations got more and more extreme.
"I also found I was speaking to people that I never thought I could speak to about these things. I know for me it was a fantasy and it was always like trying to outdo one another," he said.
"The words are horrific but they are very much for me about fantasy and living out the fantasy going on in my head and living out the fantasy I was having with other people."
Asked by his barrister Robin Shellard why he carried on with the Skype chat, the father of two replied: "To keep getting sexual gratification out of it.
"When I was online I take on a completely different character - I became somebody different."
He explained he had a "Jekyll and Hyde" character and he was able to keep his professional life separate from his online persona.
Denham, of Wiltshire, denies a charge of conspiracy to rape a child under the age of 13 and the alternative of conspiracy to sexually assault a child under the age of 13.
He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child, which also involved Lisk and Harsley, and child pornography offences.
Stansfield, of Hampshire, has pleaded not guilty to two charges of conspiracy to rape a child under 13 and one alternative charge of conspiracy to sexually assault a child under the age of 13. He has also pleaded guilty to child pornography offences.
The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.