A twisted shotgun fanatic and child-porn addict hid a cache of 2.2 million indecent images and an arsenal of potentially-lethal weapons inside a bunker at his home in Harrogate.
Retired businessman Geoffrey Crossland, 70, scoured the web for decades in search of debauched photos and videos of children being sexually abused.
But police got wind of his “catalogue” of child-porn images and swooped on his home at Padside Green Farm in Padside, where they found a staggering collection of indecent material described as the “largest collection ever” in North Yorkshire and one of the largest ever found in the country, York Crown Court heard.
As officers delved deeper into the creepy underground bunker – a series of interconnecting rooms made of old transport containers, buried into the ground beneath the farmhouse – they discovered that Crossland had “painstakingly” stored and catalogued the mind-boggling array of vile images according to their type and level of depravity, said prosecutor Stephen Wood.
Officers had no idea before they raided the farm that Crossland also kept an “arsenal” of illegal weapons - including double-barrel shotguns, rifles, pistols and 20,000 rounds of ammunition – inside the bunker, which he had made himself years earlier.
When they discovered the huge weapons stash, it quickly became clear that what they had discovered inside Crossland’s warren of depravity would lead to one of largest and most complex criminal cases ever in the region.
As well as the millions of sexual-abuse images, officers also found a shooting range inside the bunker and a stash of military-style weapons capable of firing exploding ammunition.
The investigation stemmed from a CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection command, operated by the NCA) intelligence package relating to sharing indecent images of children online and linked to Crossland’s computer IP address.
This was gathered in mid-2018 and was passed to North Yorkshire Police to develop into an investigation.
After further suspicious online activity was identified, North Yorkshire Police executed a search warrant at Crossland’s home address on 19 October 2018.
The officers discovered a significant underground bunker complex on the premises which was formed out of old shipping containers.
It quickly became apparent that it would turn into a large-scale investigation which would require the seizure and examination of more than 100 digital devices and firearms-related items, as well as extensive building and ground searches which continued until 8 November 2018.
Crossland was due to fly back home from a shooting holiday in Argentina while the search warrant was ongoing.
He was arrested at Heathrow Airport and transferred into the custody of North Yorkshire Police for questioning.
He was charged with a range of offences and appeared at York Magistrates’ Court on 24 October 2018.
Crossland pleaded guilty and was remanded into custody ahead of sentencing. The list of charges grew significantly in the intervening period as the investigation unearthed additional offences.
Detective Chief Inspector Graeme Wright of North Yorkshire Police, the senior investigating officer in the case, said: “This is without doubt the largest ever seizure of indecent images of children in the history of North Yorkshire Police. The investigation as a whole has been on a scale never seen before in our area regarding this type of offending.
“More than 100 digital devices were seized from an office area above the underground bunker complex on Crossland’s premises.
“Each device had to undergo painstaking examination by North Yorkshire Police’s Digital Forensic Unit supported by a team of specialist officers from the National Crime Agency.
“There was also the recovery of the prohibited firearms and ammunition. We knew that Crossland had, legitimately, been an active member of shooting clubs over the years and he had acquired a large collection of firearms-related items and ammunition which he stored in the bunker.
“Nevertheless, everything had to be seized and carefully assessed to determine what was and what wasn’t legally held.”
Marc Horsfall, of the National Crime Agency, said: “A team of specially trained NCA officers spent several months working through Crossland’s horrific catalogue of abuse images to grade them in order of severity.
“Crossland and men like him are fuelling the actual contact abuse of children and the sickening distribution of those images. The NCA works with partners at home and abroad to catch child sex offenders and bring them to justice.”
His Honour Judge Andrew Stubbs QC commended DCI Graeme Wright and Detective Constables Nicky Wareham and Zoe Warboys for their work on the investigation.