A pair of hands illuminated by the monitor of a laptop.

The world's most prolific dark web pedophile has been sentenced to 32 years in prison

There are shadowy and secretive parts of the internet, in the so-called dark web, where monsters convene. Although it's often exaggerated, it is true that this part of the internet is a separate beast from the world wide web. Here you can expect to find anything illegal: drugs, weapons, hitmen and also pornography of the most violent and depraved nature - hardcore material that would disturb, shock and disgust even the most jaded person.

Last week, one of the most prolific paedophiles operating on the dark web was finally sentenced to 32 years imprisonment, in a judgement that may bring some measure of solace to the 200 victims whose lives were ruined by him. This 29-year-old British man, who bragged about his lack of pity or compassion, and who gleefully blackmailed people into humiliating and debasing themselves and others for his own amusement, lived a double life as one of the most notorious paedophiles on the dark web. The full facts of his felonies are only just emerging.

Matthew Falder was brought up by a loving family in Cheshire, described by his many friends as "the life and soul of the party," and considered enormously talented. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, and later himself a lecturer at the University of Birmingham, Falder outwardly appeared to be a perfectly ordinary man. But online the geophysics researcher went by more than 70 sinister aliases, including "666devil" and "evilmind" and was a VIP member of the hidden site Hurt 2 The Core - which describes itself as the worst websites in the world, dedicated to the torture and sexual abuse of children.

Falder used the Tor network to hide his identity by encrypting his IP address, bouncing his internet connection around the globe to make it harder for authorities to trace and using specialised email accounts registered in Russia to stay hidden. By employing these means, he was able to cruelly blackmail and exploit adults and children alike and remain untraceable for eight years. By the time he was sentenced, he had accrued a "rap sheet from hell" and was charged with 137 offences, including blackmail, voyeurism and encouraging the rape of a child.

Falder's crimes began while he was still a Cambridge undergraduate in 2007 when he allegedly installed webcams inside his friends' toilets, in order to voyeuristically monitor them. From then on, his perversions only became more sick and more sophisticated, and his obvious intelligence meant that he was usually thinking ahead of the feds. He soon began to dabble in more elaborate catfishing and manipulation, pretending to be a bulimic teenage girl on a support website for people living with eating disorders; a ply he used to gain the trust of young people who he could later bully and dominate.

Later he masqueraded as a depressed young artist named "Liz" who required nudes for her life drawing, duping victims on Gumtree into providing him with images of themselves naked. Once he had secured the compromising pictures, he would push his victims into performing degrading acts on camera for him, which he would then post on the dark web for other sex offenders to enjoy. For instance, one underage girl he tricked was forced to lick toilet seats, a toilet brush, and a used tampon, while another was forced to eat dog food. One person was blackmailed into drinking urine and faecal matter, and a father was blackmailed into sexually abusing his two-year-old son, among many, many others. Three of his victims were so traumatised by the abuse Falder subjected them to that they attempted suicide.

Falder's Hurt 2 The Core profile and forum posts also revealed the inner workings of his sadistic mind. In a thread entitled: "100 things we want to see at least once," he expressed a desire to view footage of "a young girl being used as a dartboard" the rape of "a paralysed child" and the production of a video showing the bones of a child being "slowly and deliberately broken." In addition to this, he later shared an instructional video showing how sex offenders could get away with sexually abusing children, which contained tips about giving minors candy soaked in human urine or semen.

Falder also wrote about a potential liaison with a blackmail victim, in which he planned to violently rape them. He boasted about how he would force his victim to bind themselves to a tree in the woods and then lock their bindings and throw away the key, to ensure that they died slowly and painfully of either starvation, dehydration or exposure.

The manhunt for the person behind the "666devil" handle was first launched by the National Crime Agency back in 2015, after Falder asked dark web users how he should torture his "daughter" during what he described as "hell week." The girl in question turned out to be the daughter of one of his blackmail victims. The intelligence-gathering operation was the most complex and comprehensive of its kind and was conducted in a collaboration between the NCA, the United States Department of Homeland Security, the Australian Federal Police and Europol, before the authorities traced the posts back to linked an address in Birmingham. Falder was arrested in his home in June 2015.

Commenting on the case, NCA senior investigating officer Matt Sutton stated: "In more than 30 years of law enforcement I’ve never come across an offender whose sole motivation was to inflict such profound anguish and pain. Matthew Falder revelled in it. I’ve also never known such an extremely complex investigation with an offender who was technologically savvy and able to stay hidden in the darkest recesses of the dark web. This investigation represents a watershed moment." Scott Crabb, the supervising senior investigations officer of Homeland Security in the United States, summed it up more laconically, calling Falder: "absolutely the worst child exploitation and blackmail offender I have ever seen."

In his closing remarks to the Birmingham crown court, Judge Philip Parker QC stated: "Matthew Falder, you are 29 years old and prior to this you had no previous conviction. You were brought up by a loving family in Cheshire, excelled at school ... One of your tutors said you were one of the finest students he'd ever supervised and your work had an international impact ... As for your equally extraordinary sexual offending - no-one who knew you above ground had an inkling of what you were doing below the surface. You wanted to assume total control over your victims. Your behaviour was cunning, persistent, manipulative and cruel. The damage is on-going for [the victims]. It will never end, knowing the abuse caused by you still exists in other unknown persons' computers."

Cambridge University, of which Falder is a former alumnus, has stated that they intend to strip him of all qualifications, while a spokesperson representing Birmingham University claimed that the institution is "deeply shocked and distressed" by Falder's crimes. A spokesperson for Gumtree has stated that the website welcomed Falder’s conviction and added that it takes user safety "extremely seriously." If you are concerned about online abuse, blackmail, or suspected sex offenders, then please do not hesitate to visit the NSPCC for help and advice.