Matthew Falder, it could be said, is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The balding, bespectacled university lecturer was arrested in his office on 21 June last year following a global investigation by the National Crime Agency.
Using a number of social media accounts, Falder posed as a depressed female artist called "Liz". He then persuaded victims - some of them children - into sharing nude images ostensibly for life drawing. He would then blackmail them, sometimes coercing them into committing crimes against a third person such as rape or assault. Many of Falder's victims suffered extreme trauma and at least three attempted suicide.
Others were forced to perform acts including self-harm, posing next to racist signs or licking toilet seats or used tampons. The consequent content was then posted on "hurtcore" websites on the dark web where Falder asked for suggestions on his next steps.
As court documents confirm, the individuals were persuaded to send "increasingly severe self-generated indecent images of themselves, the focus of these images being to humiliate and degrade".
With victims all over the world, the four-year investigation brought together the FBI, GCHQ, Europol, Australian Federal Police, New Zealand Police and even the Israel Police.
In October 2017, Falder pleaded guilty to 137 charges from 46 complainants and was sentenced to 32 years in jail. However, today it has been reported that Falder's jail sentence has now been slashed by seven years.
The former post-graduate researcher, from Cheshire, UK, won an appeal against the original ruling. It's been said that Falder's lawyers are the reason that the sentence was reduced. However, Lord Justice Holroyde - sitting with Mr Justice King and the Recorder of Winchester Judge Keith Cutler - stated that a new, "appropriate" custodial sentence had been given which is based on the "principle of totality".
"This was grave offending with undoubtedly profound consequences for those who were the victims of this applicant," Barrister Andrew Smith QC admitted, before arguing that "the custodial element of 32 years imposed was manifestly excessive".
It was only thanks to a major breakthrough that Falder was eventually caught. Following an FBI investigation, the National Crime Agency discovered that what they believed to be three of the most prolific dark web paedophiles - "Inthegarden", "evilmind" and "666devil" - were actually one person.
Falder, who also placed spy cameras in bathrooms, stands convicted of encouraging the rape of a child, blackmail, voyeurism and making indecent images of children. On the dark web, he boasted that he was "100 per cent anonymous". Speaking about a 14-year-old victim, he said that he would "mentally f**k her up", adding "I am not sure I care if she lives or dies."
"In 25 years as a reporter covering countless trials I have never heard evidence so sickening," stated Phil Mackie, who sat in on last year's trial for the BBC. "Matthew Falder never showed any emotion during the three-and-a-half days of sentencing at Birmingham Crown Court, but for the brave few victims who faced their tormentor during sentencing, it was hard to contain their tears."
He added: "Hardened investigators were also visibly upset as some of the evidence was read out. Those who suffered extreme abuse and degradation say they are still suffering the impact of what he made them do, but it's hoped that the knowledge he's behind bars will begin to ease their nightmares."
This is the British legal system. Old, antiquated, allowing legal loopholes to be exploited. Absolutely no legal protection for the victims. Our legal system is in utter chaos. #Lawyers
Matthew Falder: One of UK's most prolific paedophiles has sentence cut by seven years pic.twitter.com/O2i5uME3sh
— Mike (@MikeCookinJapan) 16 October 2018
The absolute fucking state of this country’s justice system
One of UK's most prolific paedophiles Matthew Falder has sentence cut by 7 years pic.twitter.com/B1cC0oGyzU
— Witz (@witz71) 16 October 2018
The law in UK is broken when this sicko can manipulate the system through his lawyer to get a hefty period like this taken away from his sentence.https://t.co/oNL11RewJ0
— Peter James (@Urban_Satirist) 16 October 2018
This is outrageous- a real slap across the faces of his victims and their families who've been left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. ??
One of UK's most prolific paedophiles Matthew Falder has sentence cut by 7 years pic.twitter.com/7n4O1FjhkC
— aisha ali-khan (@aak1880) 16 October 2018
Falder, who holds undergraduate, masters and doctorate degrees, is a University of Cambridge alumnus whose friends described him as well-liked, funny and larger than life. However, sentencing the “warped and sadistic” academic for “a tale of ever-increasing depravity”, Judge Philip Parker QC said: “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.”
What appeared to save Falder is the fact that none of the attacks on his victims were physical. Judge Philip Parker QC described him as an "internet highwayman" who "wanted to assume total control over [his] victims".
It was this need to assert his power over others that manifested itself in his horrific crimes. However, in the eyes of the law, he was merely a manipulator - a puppeteer who ceaselessly tried his luck.
Though the situation is different in many ways, it is interesting to note that former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar is currently serving up to 300 years in prison for his child grooming and paedophilic crimes.
Whether you believe that 32 years as a sentence was excessive or not, that more than a fifth of the sentence can be removed - that the original sentencing could have apparently gone so wrong - is a sure sign that even legal experts can't agree on the severity of these crimes.