Human beings at the lowest level of depravity
A two-year inquiry involving 30 young girls and five paedophiles from West Cornwall was the most harrowing of his career, Detective Inspector Simon Snell said.
Operation Lakeland began in 2008 and concluded in 2010 with five men receiving jail terms totalling more than 60 years. Mr Snell and three other officers received a commendation from Judge Christopher Elwen, who oversaw the case.
"Not to demean the criminality in other operations but Operation Lakeland was particularly harrowing because of the levels of depravity, the age of the children, and the type of abuse," Mr Snell said.
"It was human being at the lowest level of depravity. To rape children of five to eight years old, to pass them around, it was atrocious.
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"It was a two-year inquiry, it was sapping. Some of the techniques we used in the investigation hadn't been used before. We were taking the victims back, sometimes to where they had been abused,
"We set up a traffic car with a video camera in it to allow that to happen. These things had never been tried before but we managed to cut through that.
"We cut through the enormous amount of processes we had to go through and it was a really successful operation. That was a key case, certainly for me."
Other high-profile sexual exploitation cases have included those of Michael Williams, from Penryn in Cornwall, and Jake Ormerod, from Torquay in Devon, who both groomed youngsters in order to have sex with them.
Williams, a postman, pleaded guilty to 27 charges, including inciting sexual activity and grooming, asking for a further 460 offences to be taken into consideration – including sexual assault. He was sentenced to eight-and-a-half-years in 2010.
"Operation Broadwood, down in Cornwall with Michael Williams, was complex because of the volume," Mr Snell said.
"We had to interview 89 children and we just can't pitch up and say to a parent we want to interview your child about this.
"Assessments have to be made with other agencies, video interviews have to be arranged along with a whole host of other safeguarding issues.
"It is not like any other crime, there is so much victim care that has to be put in place. When it is a child you have to go that extra mile.
"Some of his victims, who were due to sit their GCSEs, never sat an exam because of the abuse over the internet. The effect on them long-term is enormous. It is life changing."