Paedophiles who targeted friends' children jailed for life

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The Independent Online

Two paedophiles who molested the young children of family friends and shared appalling images of child abuse with fellow perverts were jailed for life today.

Neil Strachan and James Rennie, both from Edinburgh, were the ringleaders of Scotland biggest paedophile network.

And today they were sentenced for a catalogue of child pornography and abuse offences which included the sexual assault of a three-month-old baby.

HIV-positive Strachan, 41, was ordered to spend a minimum of 16 years behind bars at the High Court in Edinburgh.

He was found guilty of attempting to rape an 18-month-old boy and sexually assaulting a six-year-old boy at a trial earlier this year.

Rennie, 38, once a prominent and respected gay youth worker, was told he must spend at least 13 years in jail.

The ex-boss of LGBT Youth Scotland, an organisation dedicated to helping young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, was convicted of molesting a young boy over more than four years, beginning when the child was aged just three months.

The pair were also convicted of a string of child porn charges alongside six other men who have already been sentenced.

They were further found guilty of conspiring to abuse children, as were three other members of the network, after a 10-week trial.

The parents of Rennie's victim rejected his attempt at an apology in court today.

The boy's mother told STV news: "I think he's very sorry he's been caught and he's very sorry he's in the position he's in.

"I would expect him to still be abusing my son if he hadn't been caught. He's been assessed as a high risk, which means he's a high risk of reoffending."

The youngster's father added: "I don't think for a minute he would one day have stopped this behaviour by himself and made an apology."

The parents both welcomed the sentences handed down today. The mother said: "I think it's what I'd hoped they would both get."

The judge, Lord Bannatyne, told Rennie the level of betrayal of his victim's parents was "truly appalling".

He said: "These people had always stood by you, they had been there for you, given you their friendship, brought you into their lives and into the life of their child.

"You wholly betrayed that friendship and breached their trust in the grossest manner."

Referring to Strachan's abuse of the 18-month-old boy, which was captured in a photograph known as the Hogmanay image, the judge said: "By its very nature, what is shown in that photograph is utterly appalling and would shock to the core any right-minded person who has had to see it."

"You were invited into a house, treated as a friend of the family, and then entrusted with their child."

The paedophile ring was uncovered in one of the most extensive inquiries carried out by Scots police.

The men were traced through their internet conversations about sexual fantasies involving children.

Nearly 125,000 indecent images were seized during the investigation, codenamed Operation Algebra, which reached around 200 individuals across the world.

Lothian and Borders Police welcomed the "record sentences" handed out today.

Detective Superintendent Allan Jones, who led the investigation, said: "These record sentences send a strong message that any kind of child abuse and exploitation will not be tolerated, and the fight continues to identify such offenders.

"No jail sentence, however lengthy, will ever begin to compensate Strachan and Rennie's victims and, first and foremost, our thoughts are with them.

"Any reasonable human being would be repulsed by the vile acts of these men, the images they shared, and the discussions they participated with online."

All the offences were committed in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and East Lothian during various periods ranging from February 2004 to May last year.

Paint firm engineer Strachan, who was diagnosed as HIV positive in June 2007, was convicted of attempting to rape an 18-month-old boy in Edinburgh on New Year's Eve in 2005.

Strachan, convicted of eight charges in total, was also found guilty of repeatedly touching a six-year-old boy indecently on the same night while he was asleep.

The jury found trained teacher Rennie guilty of 14 charges, including one of molesting a young boy over more than four years.

He circulated pictures of the abuse and offered the boy to other paedophiles - an offer taken up by Strachan.

Strachan was found to have 7,223 still pictures and 184 video images, while Rennie had 6,545 photographs and 662 movie files.

The judge said a risk assessment carried out on Strachan found him to be someone who posed a high risk of future sexual violence against children.

Defence counsel Mark Stewart QC said Rennie, who has no previous convictions, wanted to make a formal apology and place on public record his "shame and sorrow" at what happened.

The court heard that Rennie was categorised as posing a high risk to the safety of the public.

Strachan and Rennie were both placed on the sex offenders register for life.