Devout Christian jailed on child porn charges


22 Dec, 2009 08:42 AM

To those who knew him, Martin Paul Nichols was a devout Christian, a respected member of his church and a doting son.

But behind closed doors, the 50-year-old bachelor hid a dark secret – a collection of more than 500 photographs and videos of children.

He had bought the images via clandestine websites operating overseas. Many were later assessed by police as sexually explicit and in the worst category.

It was a large-scale government investigation thousands of kilometres away in the former Soviet satellite of Belarus that finally exposed Nichols and his activity in the international child pornography trade.

In Wollongong Local Court yesterday, Magistrate Michael Stoddard sentenced Nichols to nine months’ jail – one of the longest sentences handed down by a magistrate in the Illawarra for a person convicted of possessing child pornography. Mr Stoddard ordered he serve a minimum of six months behind bars.

Nichols, of Madigan Boulevard, Mt Warrigal, had pleaded guilty to the charge.

Mr Stoddard described Nichols’ behaviour as any thing other than Christian, telling him: “People who pay for this sort of material on the internet are contributing to the abuse of children around the world and the need for general deterrence is an important aspect of sentencing in this matter. I am told you are a devout Christian, but your behaviour in my view was certainly un-Christian.”

In June 2007, the High-Tech Crime Department of the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Belarus launched Operation Tornado, which subsequently identified more than 200 commercial websites sexually exploiting children on a commercial basis.

Investigations led to the arrest of three criminals operating a major international syndicate and, in January last year, the identification of more than 61,000 credit card numbers and user accounts. More than 1500 of those belonged to Australian-based customers.

Nichols’ credit card details were passed on to Lake Illawarra detectives in March this year.

On May 5, police went to his home and seized a computer hard drive containing 500 photographs and 25 short videos. On September 23, he was formally charged.

Mr Stoddard said about 70 of the images and all of the videos had been assessed by detectives using an internationally accepted scale as being in the worst category.

Earlier, defence solicitor Neil McCarthy made an unsuccessful application to have the court either suppress Nichols’ identity or to have the court closed to the public.

“There is a climate in this country about paedophilia and (child) pornography which can motivate the community to engage in extrajudicial forms of punishment if his name is published,” Mr McCarthy said.

Mr Stoddard ordered Nichols to serve a minimum of six months’ jail.

Yesterday afternoon, Nichols was granted bail after lodging an appeal.

The appeal is expected to be heard in Wollongong District Court on February 1.

On appeal Nichols walked free from Wollongong District Court without serving any jail time.

Judge PaulConlon instead imposed a one-year suspended jail sentence.


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