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Sick collection Former sex worker jailed for possession and distribution of explicit images of children

Stephens had told his probation officer that he was acquiring ever more explicit imagery because prior material 'had became boring' for him

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A former sex worker amassed a collection of over a thousand sexually explicit images of children because he was “constantly searching for more thrills”, a court in Waterford has heard.

Among the images were babies aged six months old to teenagers aged up to 16, some of whom the judge said showed "terror, confusion and fear" at the assaults and "torture" being carried out on them.

Darragh Stephens - previously of Waterford city and now living in Poulmaleen, Faugheen, Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary - had pleaded guilty to two counts of distribution of child pornography and to one count of possession of the graphic material under the Child Pornography and Trafficing Act at the Criminal Circuit Court.

Gardaí attached to the Cyber Crime Unit found a sample of 1,113 images of child pornography. Of these 686 images were of the anus and genitalia of male and female children while there were 470 images of prepubescent boys and girls, and seven movie files of boys aged eight years to 16 years old engaging in sexual acts with other children and adults.

The distribution charge related to the 31-year-old's downloading of a peer to peer app which allowed him to communicate with other users of the application.

He sent an image to 26 users on the app and, on November 11 2015, he sent an image of a child involved in a sex act with other boys to a user.

The court heard Stephens had downloaded the app on August 20 2014 shortly before his detection by gardaí on January 11 2016.

The case took some time to progress to court, as Garda cyber crime specialists were unable to take on the files until April 2018, with an analysis eventually taking place the following year.

This was due to "sparse resources" at the office, defence barrister Conor Roberts said, adding that the "systemic delay" had added stress to Stephens as the case hung over him.

Judge O’Kelly noted that Stephens had described his own behavior as “disgusting”, and that he is now on the Sex Offenders Register.

Detective Garda Keith Goff of Waterford Garda Station told the court that the seizure at a residence in Keane's Road in Waterford city was based on intelligence given to gardaí from an internet provider.

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The court heard Stephens had told his probation officer that he was acquiring ever more explicit imagery because prior material “had became boring” for him so he was “constantly searching for more”.

The judge noted the defence had described Stephens as a victim regarding his prior employment as a sex worker, which he worked as in his early 20s. But Judge O'Kelly said the primary incentive for Stephens engaging in the work had been “monetary”, and that he found comfort in the detachment of his sexual encounters.

The court heard that he had a difficult childhood but was nonetheless supported by his family when he came out as gay, however the death of one of his siblings in early 2020 had affected his mental health.

A report by one forensic psychologist found that Stephens had demonstrated regret and shame over his actions, placing him at a medium range of reoffending, however an earlier report by the probation service cautioned a higher risk of reoffending, noting his remorse was in connection to ramifications for himself as opposed to concern for the children in the images.

Judge O'Kelly said one report indicated Stephens "over-reports" and "exaggerates" symptoms of ill mental health, and that Stephens found "gratification" in images where children were visibly distressed.

In mitigation he accepted the defendant was not distributing the imagery for financial gain.

He handed down a sentence of three years and eight months for the possession charge, suspending the final year for two years and gave sentences of two years reduced to 18 months for the other charges, with each sentence to run at the same time.

The judge attached a lengthy list of conditions to the sentence, including that Stephens will surrender any devices to gardaí upon a random inspection, that he engage in regular focused therapy and that he notify Tusla if he is to be unsupervised around children.

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