SA 'anti-bully crusader' jailed

Tim Dornin
Former Young South Australian of the Year finalist William Russell has been jailed

An anti-bully crusader nominated for Young South Australian of the Year has been jailed for at least a year for grooming teenagers online and possessing child pornography.

William Russell set up the Teen Support Network, which promoted online safety for young people, in 2012.

But the 25-year-old was jailed on Wednesday for two years and six months, with a non-parole period of 12 months, for what District Court Judge Michael Evans said was serious sexual offending.

Judge Evans said he accepted Russell had some intellectual and physical disabilities and that his apology to the court was a sign of his remorse.

He also acknowledged Russell would be a vulnerable prisoner, but said his offences were not victimless crimes.

"Your offending is too serious to release you on a bond," Judge Evans told Russell.

In 2017, Russell was a finalist for the award of Young South Australian of the Year and featured in a newspaper article speaking about the dangers facing young people online as he promoted the Teen Support Network.

But it was this article that led police to search two homes, seizing a number of electronic devices including laptop computers and phones.

It was on those devices they found conversation threads between Russell and teenage boys as well as images of child exploitation material.

Judge Evans said he accepted Russell did not go through with meeting any of the boys despite sending and receiving nude photographs and sending a sexually explicit video.

Two devices also contained 51 files of sexual exploitation material while some of Russell's devices were encrypted, with police unable to gain access.

In earlier sentencing submissions, the court was told Russell never used the Teen Support Network to help children stay safe online, but instead exploited two 15-year-old boys on the Kik and Snapchat messaging apps.

Prosecutor Andrew Fowler-Walker said in the article about his work, Russell was not honest when he said he used the network to warn young children about online threats.

"The investigating officer could find no evidence that he ever warned any youths about online sexual predators," she said.

Matthew Mead, for Russell, said his client was "most ashamed and embarrassed" about his crimes.

In his letter of apology, Russell said he was extremely sorry for his offending.

"I will be a stronger, wiser person and work my utmost to be an upstanding leading member of the community, above and beyond what I have previously done," he said.

Russell pleaded guilty to charges including procuring a child for sexual activity and aggravated possessing child exploitation material.