Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Man used Kik to distribute child abuse material

Year: 
2020-2021
Category: 
Human Exploitation and Border Protection
Location: 
New South Wales

Name: Philip George Blowers

Date of Judgement:  27 November 2020

Court: District Court of NSW

Partner Agency: AFP

Summary of charges:

On 27 November 2020, Mr Philip Blowers was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of five years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two years and eight months for offences relating to the transmission of child abuse material.

Following a three week trial, a NSW District Court jury found Mr Blowers guilty of all 25 counts on the indictment, including three offences which occurred in circumstances of aggravation.

  • 3 x Aggravated offence of use carriage service to transmit child pornography material to two or more people, on three or more occasions, contrary to s474.24A(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth)
  • 22 x Use carriage service to transmit child pornography material, contrary to s474.19(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth)

Synopsis:

In July 2017, the Australian Federal Police received intelligence from the United States, advising that an Australian-registered Kik Messenger account in the name ‘airCargoMan’ was being used to transmit child abuse material to a group chat named ‘#Teenbeastii’.

The AFP conducted an investigation and linked the ‘airCargoMan’ Kik account to Philip George Blowers (51), a Major in the Australian Army.

In September 2017, Federal Agents assisted by Australian Defence Force personnel conducted a search warrant at the defence force base where Mr Blowers was stationed. During the search, Mr Blowers attempted to hide his personal iPhone 7 under some clothing, but it was ultimately seized by police.

A forensic examination of the iPhone 7 identified that the Kik Messenger Application was installed on the iPhone and that it was logged into the ‘airCargoMan’ account. A review of the account history revealed that over a period of a month, Mr Blowers had used Kik Messenger to transmit child abuse material to other users 123 times. He transmitted the material to both individual users and to group chats which were specifically dedicated to sharing and discussing child abuse material and material with themes of incest.

During his arrest, Mr Blowers denied that he was the user of the ‘airCargoMan’ Kik account and suggested he may have been hacked by another unknown person.

After his arrest, in breach of his bail conditions, Mr Blowers acquired a mobile phone and used it to regain access the ‘airCargoMan’ account. He once again began sending messages to the ‘#Teenbeastii’ group chat, however, on this occasion, he made explicit references to having hacked the ‘airCargoMan’ account, in an effort to fabricate a criminal defence.

The AFP investigation into Mr Blowers involved the use of sophisticated digital forensic techniques, that recovered and synthesized large amounts of data and metadata from the iPhone 7, much of which had been deleted. The AFP and the CDPP worked together closely throughout the prosecution of the matter, transforming large amounts of technical evidence into a format that could be easily digested and understood by a jury.

Key points:

The single issue at the trial was whether Mr Blowers was the person responsible for the transmission of the child abuse material. Mr Blowers maintained that he was not the user of the ‘airCargoMan’ Kik account but instead had been hacked by an unknown third-party, who had assumed his identity and transmitted child abuse material in his name.

Prior to the commencement of the trial, Mr Blowers put the prosecution on notice that he intended to lead expert evidence about hypothetical vulnerabilities in the operating systems on an iPhone 7 and in the Kik Messenger application.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution led detailed digital forensic evidence about the contents of the offender’s phone which, in combination, demonstrated that the only rational conclusion was that Mr Blowers was the person responsible for sending child abuse material via the ‘airCargoMan’ account.    

An expert from the AFP digital forensic team also gave technical evidence about the implausibility of a hacking scenario. The AFP expert was cross-examined over four days, and throughout that time, maintained that there was no evidence to support a claim that the iPhone 7 had been hacked in any way.

In his judgment, Judge Norrish ultimately found that Mr Blowers had not been hacked, indeed on the contrary, his fingerprints were all over the ‘airCargoMan’ Kik account. He found that the digital evidence led by the prosecution was thorough and demonstrated that “all roads led to Rome”.

This matter exemplified the challenges law enforcement and prosecuting agencies face in light of increasingly complex digital evidence. As digital footprints increase, the amount of information available in even routine prosecutions can become overwhelming. This matter was a good study in how large amounts of technical evidence can be organised and simplified into a format that can be understood by ordinary members of the community.

Sentencing:

Mr Blowers was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of five years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two years and eight months.

In sentencing, Judge Norrish found that Mr Blowers had engaged in depraved communications, and that his actions showed “a callous disregard for the victims depicted”.

Of note, the psychologist declined to diagnose the offender with any paedophilic disorder, although Judge Norrish also noted he considered that a sexual interest in such material must have been the motivation for the offending.

Judge Norrish said that the  images shared by Mr Blowers “did not do justice to the full extent of the abuse suffered by the child victims… The full context in which that abuse occurs cannot be known”. He went on to say that by circulating the images on the internet, Mr Blowers was continuing to perpetuate and exacerbate the original abuse suffered by the children.

Judge Norrish found that Mr Blowers was unrepentant and had showed no insight into his offending. His Honour said that he needed to be personally deterred from ever offending again.

In his judgement, Judge Norrish said that general deterrence was a paramount consideration when sentencing people responsible for the dissemination of child abuse material. He said it needed to be made clear to other like-minded people that such offences are abhorrent and would be punished.

Relevant links:

The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE)