A Melbourne man who was charged with 27 offences for forcing young females in Australia and overseas to send sexually explicit pictures and videos of themselves to him by threatening to send explicit images of them to their families and schools has had his sentence increased on Crown Appeal to 10 years and 5 months with a non-parole period of 7 years and 3 month. He was originally sentenced to 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 4 years and 8 months.
Thirty-three year-old Daniel Watson created a large number of fake social media and email accounts between February 2011 and October 2013 and predominantly posed as a teenage girl to communicate with his victims, and used photographs of other victims to pass off as photos of the fake online identity.
In August 2013, members of Victoria Police's online child exploitation taskforce, Astraea, executed a warrant at Watson's house, and seized computer equipment and a smart phone. This investigation was initiated by police after a 14-year-old girl and her mother contacted Victoria Police and said a teenage girl had been using threats to demand nude photos of the 14-year-old and her younger sister. They had been communicating via Facebook and an app called Kik.
Watson initially denied knowledge of the girl who complained to police, and said the social media accounts were used by a number of other people, though later admitted to using some of the accounts, and said it was possible he had communicated with the complainant.
Police were able to trace the email address linked to the social media accounts to Watson. On further investigation police found a complex web of deceit, threats and traumatised young girls.
After Watson was arrested and bailed on 20 August 2013, he made contact with one of the victims again and tried to force her to send him more sexually explicit pictures and video. Watson was subsequently rearrested and has been in custody since November 2013.
The court heard how Watson would send his victims an explicit photo, which was of an earlier victim, and then ask them to reciprocate. He would then make demands and “threaten to publish any photos or videos the victims had provided on the internet, or give them to the victim’s family, friends or school”, the documents allege. In some instances Watson threatened to tell police that the victims were sending child pornography—as he was pretending to be a young teenager.
As the extensive police investigation unfolded, they realised that Watson’s victims were not confined to Victoria—many lived interstate and overseas. Watson collected all the photos and videos he obtained in a central email account, with labels describing each victim and often their location and school. His collection of this child pornography material obtained from victims totalled 1,480 photos and 41 videos.
As the case was explained in court, more horror stories emerged. Watson forced a 15-year-old from the United States to perform explicit acts with her five-year-old sister, then send him photos and videos of the acts. Watson then allegedly demanded more images, and threatened to report the victim to the police if she did not send them.
Watson allegedly repeated this with a 14-year-old Australian girl and her younger sister and once reported, they ultimately led police to Watson.
In total, the charges cover 43 victims from whom Watson obtained child pornography material and a further 28 victims of whom he solicited child pornography or menaced and harassed.
Watson pleaded guilty after negotiations at committal.
Acting Chief Judge McInerney described the offences of Watson as “calculating, predatory and manipulative, and also extensive”, and said it involved “the exploitation of children against specific provisions designed for their protection.”
The offending was “insidious because it targeted young, innocent girls in the privacy of their bedrooms and homes…this is not the sort of thing they should have to endure” said Judge McInerney.
On 20 August 2015 Daniel Watson was sentenced to a total effective sentence of 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 4 years and 8 months in relation to:
11 counts of procuring and causing a minor to be concerned in the making of child pornography contrary to section 69(1) Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)
10 counts of causing child pornography material to be transmitted to himself using a carriage service contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(ii) Criminal Code (Cth)
3 counts of transmitting child pornography material using a carriage service contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(iii) Criminal Code (Cth)
count of using a carriage service to engage in sexual activity with a person under 16 years of age contrary to section 474.25A(1) Criminal Code (Cth)
1 count of soliciting child pornography material using a carriage service contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(iv) Criminal Code (Cth)
1 count of - using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence contrary to section 474.17(1) Criminal Code (Cth)
On 18 September 2015 the CDPP lodged an appeal to the Victorian Court of Appeal against the inadequacy of Daniel Watson's sentence, together with the Victorian DPP.
Crown Appeal result
Judgment was delivered on 20 April 2016 by the Victorian Court of Appeal, in relation to the Director’s appeal against sentence.
The original total sentence of 7 years imprisonment with a non-parole of 4 years and 8 months was found by the majority to be manifestly inadequate (Justices Redlich and Beach, with Justice Priest dissenting), and the respondent was resentenced to 10 years and 5 months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 7 years and 3 months.
Sentencing Remarks from the majority judgement of Redlich and Beach JJA:
The Court came to the conclusion that the individual sentences on some of the rolled-up counts were manifestly inadequate, and that ‘the total effective sentence also manifestly fails to reflect the respondent’s total criminality.’
The majority judgment stated ‘When considered as a whole, the nature and circumstances of this offending were extremely serious, and warranted very significant penalties.’
The judgment further stated: ‘The calculated and deceptive way in which the respondent employed the medium to assume the identity of a teenager in order to manipulate other teenagers made this offending particularly insidious, particularly difficult to detect and particularly difficult to deter. The exploitative manner in which the respondent extorted the images from the victims was enhanced by the applicant’s use of multiple identities over a protracted period of time. He employed numerous identities to persuade, ‘cajole’ or threaten the victims into doing what he wanted.’