- A 27-year-old Kendall man has been charged with more than 300 offences
- Police allege he is part of an international paedophile ring and have arrested 14 others
- At least 46 children have been abused, some as young as 16 months
An investigation into a major online paedophile network has found 16 children from one NSW Mid-North Coast childcare centre were allegedly sexually abused by a former worker.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the operation was one of Australia's most significant efforts targeting child exploitation, with 146 tip-offs to authorities in Europe, Asia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand.
The AFP and NSW Police have arrested 14 men, who are facing a total of 828 charges for child abuse offences.
The alleged offenders are accused of producing and sharing child abuse material to a wide-reaching online network in Australia and overseas.
Investigations began in February after the arrest of 30-year-old Central Coast man Justin Radford, who was charged with 89 offences including sexual touching of a victim under 10, and producing and disseminating child abuse material.
In June, 27-year-old Timothy Doyle and his 22-year-old partner Steven Garrad were arrested in the Mid-North Coast town of Kendall and charged with hundreds of offences.
Mr Doyle has been charged with 303 offences relating to the abuse of 30 children, with allegations including sexual intercourse with a child under 10 and the production of child abuse material.
"Police will allege the man used his position as a childcare worker, and other deceptive means in his personal life, to gain access to 30 children," the AFP said in a statement.
"The man's partner, a 22-year-old man, also allegedly abused children his partner accessed through deceptive means in his personal life."
It is believed the childcare centre is not in the town of Kendall and parents of all victims have been notified.
A total 46 children are alleged to have been abused in connection with the ring, with ages ranging between 16 months and 15 years.
Arrests have also been made in Queensland and WA and three men have also been arrested in the United States as a result of the operation.
The Australian men arrested were aged 20 to 48 and include volunteer soccer coach Grant Harden, from St Clair in Sydney's west, a disability support worker, an electrician and a chef.
Earlier this month, 27-year-old Jake Caldwell was arrested at Seaforth in Sydney's north and charged with four offences related to possessing and accessing child abuse material.
AFP Assistant Commissioner, Eastern Command, Justine Gough described the ring as "a complex and inter-related web of criminality".
"Search warrants and evidence gathering at every arrest have led to the unravelling of a criminal network, each one leading to the discovery of alleged offenders and more children to be saved from ongoing abuse," she said.
Assistant Commissioner Gough said investigators "discovered social media forums where child offenders were producing, sharing and trading aberrant child abuse material with their criminal peers".
The investigation began after the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) in February received a report from the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children about an online user allegedly uploading child abuse material.
Police have laid 30 charges against three men in Queensland with one child victim identified, and 221 charges laid against three men with six child victims identified in WA.
The operation also resulted in NSW bestiality charges related to four animals.
"We've not ruled out further arrests in Australia or offshore, or sadly, the identification of further victims in Australia and offshore," Assistant Commissioner Gough said.
"No child should be subjected to abuse and violence from the people they trust — whether that's a family member, a child care worker or a soccer coach," she said.
"Sadly and heartbreakingly this has been the case for the victims of Operation Arkstone."
NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said it will be alleged all three NSW men gained access to their victims through their jobs.
"One of the key allegations for all three of these offenders is offending in a position of authority," he said.
Adam Parks from United States Homeland Security Investigations said three people have been arrested in the US in connection with the alleged network.
"This is a borderless crime and it requires a borderless response," he said.