In a sickening case which shows the global nature of sexual abuse, that both men and women can indeed be perpetrators, and the complex nature of what the Devon & Cornwall Police Force have to deal with, two people from Devon who sexually assaulted a child and livestreamed the abuse to an American paedophile via Skype have been jailed for a total of 17 years.
Sarah Gotham, 34, from Plymouth, and Craig Forbes, 36, of Warberry Road West, Torquay, were sentenced before Plymouth Crown Court today [26th October] after being found guilty of multiple sexual assaults against a girl under the age of 13.
Gotham, who has been on trial for the past eight weeks had denied six offences; Forbes had earlier pled guilty to four offences.
Forbes was also convicted on a separate offence of making indecent images of children and breaching his Sexual Harm Prevention Order, imposed in 2015, after a laptop was found hidden in a sofa at his home upon his arrest in 2016.
Gotham was jailed for nine years and Forbes for eight years.
The court heard how the two engaged in sexual assaults of a child on numerous occasions, which they subsequently broadcast live via Skype between December 2012 and March 2013.
They struck up a friendship with Kori Ellis, a female paedophile in San Francisco via a web chat room which put people with ‘common interests’ together. They swapped contact details before linking up with each other on Skype through which Gotham and Forbes streamed the live abuse; the child victim was believed to have been drugged at the time.
Gotham and Forbes came to the attention of UK police through the FBI who arrested a man for the possession of indecent images of children, in Florida. A forensic examination of his computer led to Ellis, a woman in her 40s who worked as a cocktail waitress in a strip club in San Francisco. She was then arrested by officers from the San Francisco Police Department [SFPD] and the FBI in April 2015.
In the police patrol car, Ellis told officers about two people from the UK that she had made contact with online, and that she had witnessed them abusing the girl via Skype under the name ‘Sarah Girls Only’.
Ellis has since pleaded guilty in a trial in the USA to the production of indecent images of children, having asked young people to send her naked picture of themselves.
The investigation revealed more than 64 A3 pages of graphic chat logs between Ellis, Gotham, and Forbes.
Gotham and Forbes were first arrested in May 2015 as a result of the intelligence received from US law enforcement. Following this, Gotham was bailed but Forbes was jailed for 20 months for possession of indecent images of children found on his devices at that time; he was also made subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
Officers from Devon and Cornwall Police Public Protection Unit travelled to San Francisco in November 2016 to obtain a witness statement from Ellis. An identification parade was held for Sarah Gotham and she was positively identified by Ellis as the woman she saw abusing a child via webcam.
Forbes and Gotham were re-arrested in December 2016 and later charged.
Gotham denied that she was the person on the Skype broadcast and maintained throughout the trial that she was not involved in the offences in any way.
Ellis gave evidence at the trial via video link from the FBI building in San Francisco with assistance from FBI agents who collected her from prison at 6.00am each day to meet the time difference in the UK. The Plymouth court sat until 7pm on those days to hear the evidence.
In a rare move, four FBI agents travelled to Plymouth from San Francisco, Florida, Washington and San Diego, to enter the witness box while an SFPD sergeant also gave evidence by video link. It is believed that this is the first time that FBI agents have travelled to Devon and Cornwall to give evidence in person at a court trial.
Detective Sergeant Brian Slade, from the Devon and Cornwall Paedophile Online Investigation Unit, said he was pleased with the outcome of this case:
“We welcome the verdict which has led to these depraved people being put behind bars.
“Gotham and Forbes carried out horrendous acts on a vulnerable child. While Forbes admitted what he had done, Gotham has acted completely without remorse and has always claimed that she had nothing to do with it. Her defence, which the jury saw through, was that the woman on the live stream was someone else calling themselves Sarah and using her Skype account.
“Forbes is clearly a very dangerous sex offender. However hard we find it as a society to believe that females can enter into such actions for their own enjoyment, the fact of the matter is that there is no excusing that both Gotham and Ellis are paedophiles who acted purely for their own pleasure.
“Ellis was very open from the start. She gave an extraordinary account about her behaviour and what had happened with Gotham and Forbes. It is unusual for a paedophile to be so frank; she was a compelling witness although her evidence was clearly distasteful, and at times harrowing for the jury to listen to in court.
“This was an incredibly complex case, and the police would like to thank both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and our colleagues in the American law enforcement agencies, who couldn’t do enough to help us.
“It was also extremely rare for FBI agents to give evidence in person in a UK court. We would also praise the judge and jury in this case who sat later into the evening on a number of days to accommodate the time difference for USA witnesses.
“Today’s sentence is also testament to how hard our police investigation team has worked to overcome such obstacles to bring this case to court. This sends a very strong message that we will do everything we can to ensure that the victims of such heinous crimes are safeguarded and offenders are brought to justice.”
Howard Phillips, Senior Crown Prosecutor, praised the assistance given by international law enforcement which brought these offenders to UK attention.
He said: “With the assistance of San Francisco Police Department and the FBI, the CPS was able to secure witness testimony from an American prisoner who later gave evidence in court; that with technical evidence found on devices seized in the USA was used to present a strong case.
“This case shows that wherever online sexual abuse is uncovered, we can work with international law enforcement agencies to pursue offenders and bring them before the courts.”