Anthony Burns: 'Manipulative predator' encouraged online date to abuse children, court told

National Crime Agency stock pic.
Credit: PA
National Crime Agency officers seized Burns' devices. Credit: PA

A “controlling and manipulative sexual predator” encouraged a woman he met on an online dating site to abuse a child and recorded it for his own gratification, a court has been told.

Anthony Burns, 39, “embarked upon a sustained campaign of predatory online sexual behaviour”, as he went on trial on Friday accused of two counts of causing a girl under the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity.

A jury of eight men and four women was told Burns, formerly of Lowestoft in Suffolk, used legitimate dating sites to post messages asking for explicit photographs and videos from women in return for cash before moving the conversation to WhatsApp, where video calls would take place.

He would “direct and control (women) to perform sexual acts online which he would screen capture, then store on his own private cloud to be viewed by him as and when he pleased”, prosecutor Lisa Wilding KC told the court.

The jury heard one woman, who was referred to in court as DE for legal reasons and is from the US, performed sexual acts on herself on a video call with Burns in August 2020, before sexually abusing a seven-year-old girl, who was also in the room at the time.

Burns kept his head down and looked at the floor while jurors were shown a pixelated version of the screen recording of the abuse, which lasted for about 25 minutes.

Ms Wilding said it is the Crown’s case that the abuse was carried out “at the direction of the defendant”.

She said: “He is a man with a proven sexual interest in children.

“He has a proven history of directing women to pose in a certain way… and behave in increasingly depraved ways.

“When the circumstances allowed and he could, or thought he could, get away with it, his darkest desires to engage in sexual activity with children surfaced and he was able to act upon them with the help of DE.”

The jury was told the woman involved is serving a prison sentence for her role in the abuse.

Ms Wilding added: “The fact that it was (DE) who actually touched the child does not mean this defendant was not also guilty of that abuse.

“The prosecution say it was done at his request and at his instruction and therefore he too is guilty of these offences.”

Setting out the case against Burns, Ms Wilding said prosecutors believe women carried out the “degrading” acts in return for money, which the defendant never paid.

She told the jury: “We invite you to conclude that this defendant had begun by offering to pay DE for the acts, as he always did.

“But at some stage it is clear, we say, that he became aware that there were children in the room. It is clear when you see the video that DE is doing things to the child under the direction of Burns – she keeps looking back at the camera as if for his approval.

“The issue is stark – there’s no doubt the abuse took place, but did DE start to abuse the child, for no reason, for free, at her own instigation – to the defendant’s great good luck, given his own interest in such activity?

“Or did DE, no doubt under the false promise of more money, comply with the request from this defendant to perform upon the child the very things that Anthony Burns has a clear obsession with?

“The prosecution say this happened because of, at request of and under the control of Anthony Burns.”

Burns was engaging in the video calls, he would be messaging and receiving messages from other people, including one from his mother asking him if he had eaten enough, and another from his girlfriend saying she missed him, the court was told.

Burns 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 there is evidence Burns was speaking with women from across the UK, US and Australia.

Judge Sarah Buckingham sent the jury away for the weekend, with the defence case expected to get under way after the bank holiday.

The trial continues.

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