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“Metadata embedded within the images was also crucial for verifying the times and dates of the offending.” In July 2014 Detective Brevet Sergeant Hegarty performed the harrowing task of visiting the parents of the seven identified children to inform them of the dreadful news. Appropriate support and medical and counselling services were put in place for the victims and their families.

THE EVIDENCE BUILDS Due to the high definition of several images taken by McCoole on his Panasonic camera, fingerprints could clearly be seen. Detective Brevet Sergeant Hegarty took a disc of photos to SAPOL’s fingerprint section for analysis on the slim chance they would find a match to McCoole. “Within an hour I received a phone call saying the computer had found a positive hit on five of the images sourced from McCoole’s computer. Obtaining fingerprint evidence from photographs was a first for South Australia,” he said. The evidence against McCoole continued to mount up. Detectives identified McCoole’s handwriting in “proof pictures” – a handwritten message from the abuser used to authenticate the child abuse when distributed online to paedophile associates. “I located 14 images where McCoole had written words on a piece of paper or post-it note and placed it on the child during the abuse. It was then compared to examples of his handwriting, with 10 of the images positively linked to three of the identified victims,” Detective Brevet Sergeant Hegarty said. On 26 June 2014 a meeting was held with McCoole’s lawyer, where they were informed of the fingerprint evidence and the discovery of a partial facial image of

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Inside McCoole’s house on the night of his arrest.

McCoole in one of the abuse videos. Faced with the sheer weight of evidence, McCoole consented to an interview which took place on 29 July 2014 at Mount Gambier Prison. “McCoole admitted to offending against four of the seven identified child victims. He also provided information about Kid Zone and confirmed he was the chief administrator of the site,” Detective Brevet Sergeant Hegarty said. “He minimised his offending and even provided excuses for some of it. Disturbingly, he also said he was proud of the website and his achievements with it.” McCoole agreed to further interviews in September 2014 and February 2015. Detective Brevet Sergeant Hegarty found McCoole to be highly intelligent and manipulative. “He was very selective in targeting his victims, preferring very young children who were incapable of reporting anything,” he said. “He was also extremely careful, abusing the children only when he was alone with them to reduce the risk of being discovered.”

JUSTICE SERVED McCoole pleaded guilty to all state and Commonwealth charges in relation to the seven identified victims. On 7 August 2015 he was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment with a nonparole period of 28 years – the longest sentence ever handed down to a sex offender in South Australia. The case also triggered the establishment of a Royal Commission into the state’s child protection system. The successful prosecution of McCoole was the culmination of outstanding investigative work over a prolonged period, often in very trying circumstances. At a SAPOL Medal Parade held in September 2016, Officer in Charge of SCIB, Detective Superintendent Mark Wieszyk, accepted a Unit Certificate of Merit on behalf of the investigations team in recognition of their significant contribution to Operation Prism. “During the investigation more than 120 statements were obtained, 87 carers and workers interviewed, and 79

children in care interviewed. Over 53 000 child exploitation images and 2400 videos were categorised,” he said. “Victim management was also a significant factor in this investigation with SCIB working closely with Child Protection Services and Families SA to determine the best course of action for the children involved.” Detective Superintendent Wieszyk believes the investigation was a significant challenge for those investigators involved. “The dedication and resilience applied was a credit to them,” he said. “Identifying the victims was a painstaking and horrific process for investigators. The whole investigation was shocking for police, the victims and the families of victims. “I believe McCoole would have offended again if given the opportunity so it’s satisfying to know that SCIB has played a significant role in ensuring he has been brought to justice for his despicable crimes.” 

Blueprint magazine Issue 1 2017  

Blueprint is South Australia Police’s official magazine. In each issue you will find informative and engaging articles covering a broad rang...

Blueprint magazine Issue 1 2017  

Blueprint is South Australia Police’s official magazine. In each issue you will find informative and engaging articles covering a broad rang...