In a disturbing case that has shocked the community of Swindon, Brett Saunders, a 50-year-old man, has pleaded guilty to his involvement as a ‘Global Moderator’ on a dark website dedicated to the sharing of child sexual abuse content. The National Crime Agency (NCA) discovered the hidden site during an investigation, revealing its over 2,000 members and exclusive accessibility through Tor.
The NCA focused on a moderator known as ‘Wetty,’ who played a significant role in running the site. Wetty was responsible for enforcing the website’s rules, responding to user inquiries, and providing advice on personal security and evading law enforcement detection.
Upon further investigation, Saunders was identified as the person behind the ‘Wetty’ account. It was revealed that he had previous convictions related to the sexual exploitation of children. NCA officers swiftly arrested Saunders at his residence in Freshbrook, Swindon in August 2022. During the arrest, several of his devices, including his laptop hidden under a sofa cushion, a phone, and a hard drive concealed in an air vent, were seized.
Shockingly, the website was open on Saunders’ laptop, and he was logged into his account at the time of the arrest. In his subsequent interview with the authorities, he admitted to being a Global Moderator and confessed to uploading indecent images of children to the site. He further admitted to having a sexual interest in children, particularly girls aged 8-12.
Investigators recovered substantial evidence, including over 3,000 posts made by Saunders and private messages he exchanged with other users. These messages highlighted the crucial role he played in ensuring the site’s operation and the rapid rise in his status due to his commitment and encouragement of discussions and distribution of child sexual abuse material.
One chilling interaction between Saunders and another user revealed his response to being congratulated on his promotion to Global Moderator, where he expressed his shock and promised to continue performing his duties to the best of his abilities.
The dark website operated on a points-based system, where users earned ‘reputation points’ for adhering to the rules and sharing abusive material. Saunders was in charge of the guest portal, where new users had to accumulate at least 10 reputation points to gain entry to the main site. He had the authority to issue or deduct reputation points and decide who would be allowed through.
Disturbingly, Saunders uploaded a total of 115 images and videos of child abuse to the site. He even shared two such images of a young girl as part of a discussion around the legalization of pre-teen marriage, accompanied by a disturbing caption expressing his desire for the girl to remain at a specific age indefinitely.
Further investigations led to the recovery of 65,000 files containing indecent images of children from Saunders’ devices. Following his arrest, Saunders was charged by Wiltshire Police for breaching a sexual harm prevention order previously placed on him. He was subsequently remanded in custody and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for the breach.
More recently, Saunders faced an additional nine charges, including arranging/facilitating the sexual exploitation of a child under 13, participating in the criminal activities of an organized crime group, distributing and making indecent images of children, and possessing a prohibited image of a child. On January 19, 2024, at Swindon Magistrates Court, he pleaded guilty to all nine counts. His sentencing is scheduled to take place on March 5, 2024, at Swindon Crown Court.
Adam Priestley, Branch Commander at the NCA, expressed his dismay over the case, stating that Saunders was directly responsible for facilitating the sexual abuse of children. He emphasized the NCA’s commitment to targeting dark websites like the one Saunders operated, which play a significant role in normalizing such heinous acts. Priestley reassured the public that the NCA possesses the capabilities to identify and bring to justice the highest harm offenders who attempt to hide in these spaces.