27 February 2023

'Vigilante' ex-public servant searched for child abuse material to report it

| Albert McKnight
courts building

David John Horner will not serve time in jail over child abuse material charges. Photo: Albert McKnight.

A former public servant who started to report the child abuse material he found because he wanted to be a “vigilante” has been sentenced, but will not have to spend any time behind bars.

Police raided David John Horner’s home on 10 November, 2021, while he was there with his wife and three children, sentencing remarks from the ACT Supreme Court say.

Officers seized his computer and found three videos of child abuse material on it that showed two child victims, aged between three and six, which had been accessed in 2018 and 2019.

The officers also found a document titled “complaint” on his computer, which contained 64 reference numbers.

Fifty of the numbers matched those of anonymous complaints that had been made to the eSafety Commissioner between 2013 and 2018 and included 247 URL links that related to child abuse material.

According to clinical psychologist Matthew Visser, Horner had suffered from significant childhood trauma and had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Horner said he became addicted to pornography when he was an adult and would look at it when he was “sad or not wanting to think”.

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He said that when he came across child abuse material it upset him, so he “figured out a way to report it” and “wanted to be a vigilante”.

Mr Visser said a criterion of PTSD was “reckless and self-destructive behaviour” and “deciding to go on a ‘vigilante’ mission to seek out and report all the child abuse material that he was able to find was a highly risky activity”.

Horner was 48 when his home was raided and had been working for the ACT Government.

He had no previous criminal history, had been a member of the NSW Rural Fire Service for 20 years and had worked for the Queensland Government as well as the Department of Defence.

His life changed after he was charged. He and his wife separated, he resigned from his job, moved to Brisbane and started casual labouring and hospitality jobs, including garbage collection and washing dishes.

Justice Belinda Baker said he had possessed and accessed relatively few items of child abuse material, but there were “two real child victims” in the videos who were shown in “offensive and degrading” acts.

She said he had possessed the videos for years and she found the offences were not isolated.

“Prior to the present offences, the offender had accessed approximately 50 child abuse files, although he had reported a number of those to the eSafety Commissioner,” she said.

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Justice Baker accepted the opinions of two psychologists who thought Horner was not motivated by a sexual interest in children, but she said his “vigilante” behaviour must also be discouraged and denounced.

Horner pleaded guilty to charges of using a carriage service to possess child abuse material and using a carriage service to access child exploitation material.

He was sentenced to a total of 18 months’ jail, but this was immediately suspended and he was granted a $100 recognisance release order that means he must be of good behaviour for three years. His computer was also forfeited.

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