A ‘pupil’ of one of the most dangerous sexual predators ever investigated by the National Crime Agency has been jailed for 24 years for committing dozens of blackmail and online sex offences.

Anthony ‘Danny’ Burns, 39, worked with notorious online child sex offender Abdul Elahi, who was jailed for 32 years in December 2021 after targeting 2,000 people globally to commit sadistic online abuse.

Between May 2018 and March 2021, Burns used ‘sugar daddy’ websites to trap dozens of unsuspecting females into performing sexual and degrading acts under the threat of blackmail.

One of his 35 victims was a seven-year-old girl in the US, who was abused by her mother following sustained coercion by Burns.

Burns attempted to contact approximately 600 people around the world with the intention of sexually exploiting them. 

Elahi ‘tutored’ Burns on the psychology of blackmail, including techniques such as scripted wording to help gain the trust of victims, and provided instruction on how they would respond to threats and what to say to them.

Burns, originally from Lowestoft, used multiple online personas to ensnare his victims, including posing as the head of a model agency searching for clients. He also pretended to be an NCA officer on one occasion.

Once Burns had gained the trust of his victims, he moved them to WhatsApp which is protected by end to end encryption. He was able to delete read messages from his and his victims’ phones, thereby removing visible evidence.

All the victims were ordered to film themselves carrying out sexual acts in the belief they would be paid £600, but the money was never transferred to them. When he had received enough explicit material, Burns threatened to expose the pictures to the victims’ families and friends unless they sent more increasingly depraved photographs and videos.

The nature of the demands became more severe and degrading at the point that Burns had entrapped the victims through the threat of exposure.

NCA officers arrested Burns in February 2019. His mobile phone and computers were seized and forensically examined.

NCA Operations Manager Robert Slater said: “Anthony Burns was a revolting sexual offender.

“My first thoughts go out to his victims, many of whom showed immense courage by providing vital evidence to secure his conviction.

“The control he sought over them, some of whom were young children, was sinister, manipulative and heartless.

“Cases like these harden the NCA’s determination to pursue the highest harm sexual offenders, including those who use technology nefariously in an attempt to hide their activities, and make them accountable for their disgusting crimes.

“Anyone being pressured or threatened into sending sexual images or videos online, should try to remove themselves immediately from the conversation, not respond further to any contact, and report the matter to police.

“You are not alone, you are not to blame and help is always available.”

The FBI aided the NCA’s investigation and helped locate victims in the United States.  

Most of Burns’ other victims lived in England but there were also people in the Channel Islands and Australia.

Incriminating evidence uncovered by NCA investigators from Burns’ phone highlighted the scale and propensity of his offending, and that he was blackmailing several victims simultaneously.

The NCA liaised with New Zealand authorities to recover all of the abuse material Burns had saved separately from his devices on a cloud storage platform. This proved he had retained the depraved material he demanded from his victims.

It was the analysis of this material which led to NCA investigators identifying the child and mother in the US. The child has since been safeguarded and the mother has been sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Burns was charged with 46 counts including blackmail, attempted blackmail, causing a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, arranging the commission of a child sex offence; making and distributing indecent images of children (IIOC), possessing extreme pornography, malicious communications offences and failure to comply with notification requirements.

He admitted 41 counts and was found guilty of a further two on 30 August last year, following a two-day trial at Birmingham Crown Court. The remaining charges will lie on file.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison with a further five on licence at the same court today (19 January). He will also be subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order and has been placed on the sex offenders register for life.

All 35 of Burns’ victims on the indictment, aged between seven and 54, have been safeguarded.

Bethany Raine, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, said: “Anthony Burns had an obsessive interest in controlling women and children into performing increasingly degrading sexual acts online for his own gratification.

“Burns belittled and humiliated women. They became trapped in a web of fear where their own images became tools of manipulation and extortion, leaving them vulnerable to his depraved demands.

“His conviction sends a clear message that the CPS is committed in bringing offenders like Burns, who sexually abuse and exploit victims, to justice, wherever that abuse takes place.”