The head of a paedophile ring whose members live-streamed each other sexually abusing children has been given nine life sentences.

Michael Emerton, who went by the name Ginger Beak on dating app Grindr, led a gang of six men, who transmitted graphic sexual images to each other by videolink.

The ring also used Skype and TruNude to establish their network.

Emerton, 33, of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, also arranged to meet his accomplices to take part in sex acts in front of children.

Judge Michael Kay QC, passing sentence at Luton Crown Court, said the crimes of the ring had shaken his faith in humanity.

"It is a sad feature of life as a judge in the criminal court, and for others involved in the criminal justice system that one has time and again to read about and sift through the evidence and detail of sexual depravity, very often involving children," he said.

"Even within this field of appalling and sickening abuse, there is from time to time a case which is so shocking that it undermines one's faith in humanity. This is one such case.

"Never before have I read a police summary of a case which begins with a warning that the reader should be very wary of the content due to the abhorrent nature of the offending."

Emerton was arrested in November 2016 after Hertfordshire Police were tipped off by another force investigating the gang.

He admitted 20 offences, including four of child rape and three of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and was given seven life sentences.

Depraved acts

He later admitted to further offences including conspiring with the other defendants to rape, commit sexual activity with a child or engage in sexual activity in the presence of a child, and was handed two more life sentences.

The other members of the gang were Matthew Webby, 30, of Hemel Hempstead, Robert Lindsay, 39, of Markyate, Paul Stevens, 54, of Northchurch, Simon Wintle, 44, of Hemel Hempstead, David Overall, 44, of Stevenage and Thomas Perry, 28, of Northchurch. They pleaded guilty.

Stevens was sentenced to 10 years with a five-year licence extension; Webby to nine years with a five-year licence extension; Lindsay to five years and three months with a three-year licence extension; Wintle to two years and six months; and Overall to two years.

Perry was found guilty of child abuse and will be sentenced on 24 January.

The police sting, codenamed Operation Pendent, was the largest ever conducted by the Hertfordshire Police child protection team.

Chief Inspector Dee Perkins said: "This was an extensive inquiry which resulted in the sharing of intelligence with more than 50 other law enforcement agencies.

American connection

"Emerton, the paedophile at the centre of this investigation, mercilessly exploited children for his own sexual gratification and for those other men who he met online.

"The nine life sentences he has received reflect the disturbing nature of his actions. Work is ongoing to support the victims and make sure they have the best possible chance of a normal life ahead."

The sprawling nature of the case even reached as far as America, which saw UK authorities rush to contact US agencies about a victim they suspected was in imminent danger of abuse.

A spokesman for Hertfordshire Police said: "In one instance, intelligence was shared via the National Crime Agency with the Department of Homeland Securities about a potential offender in the USA.

"The intelligence suggested there was an immediate risk of harm to a potential victim. The suspect was detained in custody by American authorities within 48 hours of the evidence of offending being discovered in the UK."

James Mancuso, attaché for Homeland Security Investigations in London, said: "Protecting children from exploitation is one of the most important missions we have and as this case demonstrates it takes the collaboration of law enforcement agencies around the world to tackle this crime."