Paedophile gang preyed on the baby son of their friends
A paedophile gang that carried out a series of attacks on children and infants, including a three-month-old baby, were found guilty yesterday.
The abusers, including a respected youth leader, a civil servant, a bank clerk and a Church elder, were members of one of the largest paedophile network ever dismantled.
The convictions at the High Court in Edinburgh were the culmination of an 18-month international police operation, codenamed Algebra.
It has identified a further 70 suspects in 16 regions of Britain and led to action against another 35 suspected child abusers.
Police and the prosecution hailed the verdicts as an important advance in the fight against child sexual abuse.
For the first time in legal history, the Crown brought a case of conspiracy to participate in the commission of sexual offences.
Advocate Depute Dorothy Bain, QC, asked for a full risk assessment for two of the gang; Neil Strachan, who has previous convictions for child abuse, and James Rennie, a respected youth leader and gay rights campaigner who had met Tony Blair and the Queen.
It would enable a judge to set a minimum sentence.
The men would be freed only when a parole board considered they no longer posed a risk to the public.
Lord Bannatyne, the judge, described the gang's crimes as "utterly horrific".
The jury sat through nine weeks of evidence, which presented a selection from a total of 125,000 still and video images shared among the eight men on trial, and a log of internet chatroom conversations that revealed the extent to which child sex abuse had engulfed their lives.
These digital records detailed how Strachan and Rennie were able to breach the trust of friends, abuse their children, then invite their paedophile circle to assault the children, too.
Detective Inspector Stuart Hood, who led Operation Algebra, said that this horrific breach of trust illustrated the plausibility of the serial sex offenders.
Rennie abused the three-month-old baby of close friends without them suspecting.
He gave the child presents, changed nappies and babysat. It was only when officers arrived with images of the abuse that the couple realised any crime had been committed.
In a statement, the couple said: "For 15 years James Rennie seemed the closest of family friends.
"To learn that he abused our son, and invited others to do the same, has been devastating. As a family we have had to learn to live, and cope with, the effect these horrific events have had."
The parents of two children attacked by Strachan faced further heartache. Strachan is HIV positive and the children had to be tested for the virus.
"The anguish I feel towards Mr Strachan is indescribable," said the boys' mother.
"I feel that no matter what punishment given to Mr Strachan it will never be able to compensate for the hurt, devastation and great deal of stress brought to me and my family."
Detective Superintendent Allan Jones said that the case "represented the largest paedophile network dismantled in Scotland".
He said: "As the investigation unfolded, it revealed a web of people who had a common interest in child sexual abuse.
"All led classic double lives. Some of them were respected members of their communities.
All eight, who were convicted yesterday, will be sentenced next month.