A Norfolk labourer can be named as one of the most prolific child sex offenders ever to come before the courts.

Eastern Daily Press: Ipswich Crown Court, where Wilson admitted 96 sex offences Picture: ArchantIpswich Crown Court, where Wilson admitted 96 sex offences Picture: Archant

Predator David Nicholas Wilson, who pretended to be teenage girls online has admitted 96 sex offences against 51 boys aged from four to 14.

But law enforcement officers fear the crimes could be the tip of the iceberg, with evidence that he may have duped as many as 500 boys into sending him images, and of contacting at least 5,000 children in the UK and abroad.

Wilson, 36, from King’s Lynn, created and used a string of fake identities to contact the victims on Facebook and other social media.

He sent them sexual images of young women from the internet in exchange for the boys sending him videos and images of themselves.

He built up trust with his victims before blackmailing them into sending him more extreme footage of themselves – and in some cases, of them abusing younger siblings or friends.

On some occasions he then distributed the images to victims’ friends. He showed no compassion even when some victims begged him to stop.

Such was the level of suffering Wilson inflicted, several children on the indictment spoke of wanting to end their lives.

The offences were committed between May 2016 and April 2020. Investigators from the National Crime Agency (NCA) say he is one of the most prolific child sexual abuse (CSA) offenders it has ever investigated.

On Monday, Wilson, of Kirstead, Lynn, appeared at Ipswich Crown Court and admitted charges which included intentionally causing or inciting boys to engage in sexual activity, blackmail, intentionally causing children to look at sexual images and intentionally facilitating the sexual exploitation of children by sending on images of those children.

He will be sentenced on January 12, 2021. Judge Rupert Overbury adjourned the case for sentencing to allow time for the Probation Service to prepare a report. He told Wilson he may receive an “extended sentence”.

In June and July 2017, Facebook identified 20 accounts of boys ranging from 12 to 15 years old, who had sent indecent images of themselves to an account seemingly belonging to a 13-year-old girl.

The material was forwarded to the NCA for investigation by NCMEC – the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children – which receives industry referrals before disseminating them to law enforcement agencies to investigate.

The NCA found the IP addresses used to commit the offences led to Wilson’s house and CCTV footage of him buying a top-up voucher for a phone number linked to one of the fake Facebook accounts.

When he was arrested in August 2017 the phone used to commit some of the offences was hidden in his bedroom.

NCA investigators used huge amounts of communication data to link the offending profiles and ultimately prove Wilson was responsible.

Between November 2017 and January 2018 NCMEC made dozens more referrals.

In all Facebook material made up 90 referrals from NCMEC to the NCA. Their information was crucial to Wilson facing justice – though Facebook currently plans to encrypt its messenger service which will mean offenders like Wilson will likely go undetected.

In order to obtain the evidence from relevant Facebook, Snapchat, Google and Instagram accounts, an International Letter of Request (ILOR) was prepared and submitted to US authorities via the Crown Prosecution Service.

The legal process took close to two years to complete and the NCA received the relevant evidential material in October 2019.

It contained more than 250,000 messages to analyse and the scale of Wilson’s offending became clear with victims across the UK, and in America and Australia.

In April this year Wilson was charged with three counts and remanded. In August while in prison he was charged with the remaining counts.

Tony Cook, NCA head of CSA operations, said: “David Wilson is a prolific offender who has caused heartbreaking suffering to some of the boys and their families in this case.

“He was able to gain the boys’ trust and exploit their use of social media using well practiced techniques to convince them he was genuinely a young female who was interested in them.

“He then manipulated or forced them to send images of themselves or other children which he craved.

“He knew the anguish victims were suffering but ignored any pleas from them to stop until he got what he wanted from them.

“Wilson retained material the children had sent and used the threat of sharing it among their friends to control them.

“I commend the victims and their families for their bravery in helping the prosecution and our investigators for painstakingly and tenaciously proving Wilson was responsible.”

Wilson’s conviction relied upon information detected and shared by Facebook.

But the company plans to implement end-to-end encryption on its messenger service meaning it – and law enforcement - could lose sight of offences like his.

Rob Jones, the NCA’s director of threat leadership, said: “This was a major investigation which has brought a very dangerous offender to justice.

“It’s chilling to think Wilson wouldn’t have been caught if Facebook had already implemented their end-to-end encryption plans which will entirely prevent access to message content.

“The NCA, wider law enforcement and child safety groups are clear that the move will turn the lights out for policing and effectively provide cover for offenders such as Wilson.

“Facebook Messenger is already protected by strong encryption that still enables the company to detect grooming and known abuse images.

“It was Facebook’s initial identification of Wilson’s accounts in June and July 2017 which provided the intelligence that started this investigation.

“Content obtained from Facebook Messenger conversations was also crucial throughout the operation. Had that content been end-to-end encrypted, there is a real risk that justice would not have been served and Wilson would still be abusing victims today.”

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), said: “Wilson was a prolific offender who was exposed by the NCA for using social media to ruthlessly exploit children and subject them to untold harm. If it wasn’t for the evidence provided by Facebook, he might never have been brought to justice.

“Yet Facebook is still choosing to proceed with end-to-end encryption, despite knowing it will blindfold itself and prevent law enforcement from detecting serious and sustained online threats to children and allow more criminals like Wilson to use its platforms to commit child abuse.”

A Facebook spokesperson said: “Child exploitation and grooming have no place on our platforms.

“Facebook has led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect and respond to abuse and we will continue to work with law enforcement to combat criminal activity.

“End-to-end encryption is already the leading technology used by many services to keep people safe and we will build on our strong anti-abuse capabilities at WhatsApp when we roll it out on our other messaging services.

“For example, through a combination of advanced technology and user reports, WhatsApp bans around 250,000 accounts each month suspected of sharing child exploitative imagery.”

If you have been affected by anything in this report then information and advice can be found on the Thinkuknow website. Links also include advice for parents, carers and professionals.

If you need help or support, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s First Response helpline on 0808 196 3494. Both operate 24/7.

Alternatively download the Stay Alive app, which is backed by Suffolk User Forum, if you are having thoughts of suicide or if you are concerned about someone else.