The “pupil” of a dangerous internet predator blackmailed and controlled at least 27 women from all over the world into carrying out degrading sexual acts for his own gratification, a court has heard.
Anthony Burns, 39, pleaded guilty to a raft of blackmail and online sex offences against children and adults, it can now be revealed, after being “tutored” by notorious online child sex offender Abdul Elahi, who was jailed for 32 years in December 2021 after targeting 2,000 people globally to commit sadistic online abuse.
Instructed in techniques of blackmail and threats by Elahi, Burns would follow a “pattern” when engaging with women online, usually via “sugar daddy” or other legitimate online dating sites using different identities and phone numbers as well as fake profile photos, a jury at Birmingham Crown Court was told.
He would occasionally pose as a modelling agent and, after making contact with the women, would move their conversation to WhatsApp before asking them to send sexual photographs or videos in exchange for £600, which he never paid.
Burns would ask the women for photographs of their identification, which he said was to ensure they were of legal age – before actually using the information to research them online.
When the women agreed to a video call over WhatsApp, Burns would keep his camera off but “direct and control” them by giving them specific instructions about what to do and “persuade” them to carry out increasingly explicit sexual activity.
When he had received enough explicit material, Burns threatened to expose the pictures to the victims’ families and friends unless they sent more increasingly depraved photographs and videos.
He would record the video calls and save the recordings to the cloud so he could access them again later.
A trial, concerning two counts of causing a girl under the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity, was told that one such call in August 2020 resulted in a woman from the US performing sex acts on herself before sexually abusing a seven-year-old girl.
Lisa Wilding KC said it was the prosecution’s case that Burns was the one directing the woman, who has been jailed for her part in the abuse, to carry out the acts on the child when he noticed she was in the room, although the video recording in question did not have any sound.
Burns, originally from Lowestoft in Suffolk, was described by the prosecution as a “controlling and manipulative sexual predator” who had attempted to contact approximately 600 people around the world with the intention of sexually exploiting them.
He was arrested and his devices were seized after an investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Nigel Whalley, an investigator at the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, told the court on the first day of the trial there is evidence that Burns was speaking with women from across the UK, US and Australia.
NCA operations manager Robert Slater said: “Anthony Burns showed remorseless cruelty in controlling and coercing his victims, including very young children, into acts which have left them severely traumatised.
“The NCA is determined to identify and pursue the most harmful child sexual offenders, including those who exploit technology to hide their activities and target large numbers of victims, no matter where they are.”
The FBI provided assistance to the NCA’s investigation and helped locate victims in the United States.
Burns was charged with 46 counts including blackmail, attempted blackmail, causing a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, arranging the commission of a child sex offence, making and distributing indecent images of children, possessing extreme pornography, malicious communications offences, and failure to comply with notification requirements.
He admitted 39 counts and was found guilty of a further two at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday by jurors who deliberated for just over two hours. He is due to be sentenced at the same court on January 18 2024.
The remaining five charges will lie on file.
Judge Sarah Buckingham told the jury Burns is under no illusion that he will be facing a “significant” custodial sentence, but said the sentencing hearing will be “long and complex” due to the crimes involved.