A court in Germany has sentenced two men to prison over one of the worst child sex abuse cases in the country’s post-war history.
The Detmold district court convicted the two men of sexually abusing dozens of young girls and boys between three and 14 years old and for producing child pornography in over 450 cases.
The men, known only as Andreas V., 56, and Mario S., 34, were sentenced to 13 and 12 years in prison, respectively. German privacy laws prevents authorities from releasing full names.
Both men will be held in preventative custody after serving their jail sentences and, based on verdict, could effectively end up being locked up for the rest of their lives.
Thirty-four girls and boys were subjected to sexual abuse by the two men at a campsite in the Luegde Forest in central Germany between 1998 and 2018, the public prosecutor said.
A third man – known as Heiko V. – linked to the case was charged in a separate trial in July for aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of children. He was ordered to attend therapy and handed a two-year probationary sentence.
Andreas V. lived in the campsite permanently and among his victims was his six-year-old foster daughter, whom prosecutors say he used as “bait” to lure other children.
German police believe Andreas V. went on to become the ringleader of a pedophile gang that used his family’s camper van as its base of operations for decades, abusing dozens of children and recording their crimes for profit on the dark web.
Authorities say they collected ten computers, nine mobile phones, more than 40 hard drives and more than 400 additional data carriers as evidence from Andreas V and two other men.
Judge Anke Grudda said it was “difficult to express what happened in words,” and that words like “abhorrent, monstrous, repugnant” were not enough to describe the atrocities.
The case has scandalized the nation, especially after police recently admitted that some of the data confiscated as evidence has been “lost” while in police hands.
Axel Lehmann, the district council in charge of police oversight, admitted to CNN that “considerable mistakes” had been made by individuals, but said “we are regarded as the safest circle in NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia).”
Lehmann said an investigation was ongoing and as such could not comment more specifically on the failings of authorities.
Despite sex abuse allegations against Andreas V., he was granted permission in 2016 to become the guardian of a six-year-old foster daughter.
Germans have been left wondering why he was allowed to foster children despite numerous red flags. Roman von Alvensleben, a lawyer whose office represented three victims in the case, shared those concerns in an interview with CNN earlier this week.
”I find it absurd to entrust someone a child who lives in a caravan, or a shack. The authorities were aware of what was going on,” Von Alvensleben said.
“This foster child became a bait to lure and attract other children. The children got to know each other at birthday parties, it was suggested that the children can play with each together, or that they can visit the amusement park together. The thinking was ‘I’ll do something with them, we can go swimming sometimes…’ That’s what my client’s mother did. She was not aware of what was really going on.”
Von Alvensleben criticized officials for failing in their duties to protect the children, adding: “I call this a breach of duties by authorities. These official breaches by police, the youth welfare office led to the fact that my client could be abused in the first place.”
An investigation is underway by the local Youth Welfare Office to determine how Andreas V. was allowed to become a foster parent.
CNN’s Nadine Schmidt reported from Berlin while Sheena McKenzie and Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London.