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George - The Plettenberg Bay computer engineer, who pleaded guilty to 18 644 counts of possession of child pornography, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by the Thembalethu Regional Court in George, on Tuesday.

William Beale, 39, appeared in court for a final time, since his high-profile arrest in Plettenberg Bay almost three years ago.

During sentencing Magistrate Eugenia Jacobs described the images as depicting the most horrific acts imaginable.

She said after taking all sentencing options into consideration, she came to the conclusion that anything other than imprisonment would be a total disregard of the seriousness of the offence.

“This sentence should send a clear message to the public that these crimes are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Imprisonment will deter the accused from repeating similar crimes and also deter others from committing such offences,” Jacobs said.

She said that she believed Beale was a danger to society and the fact that he did not commit a contact crime was “irrelevant”. 

Read more: Man convicted of 18 644 child porn charges to be sentenced

“With every click of a button on the internet (involving child pornography), a child’s rights are being infringed.”

Beale was the first South African to have been arrested in what has become known as Operation Cloud 9. 

The operation involves cooperation between Belgian and South African authorities in an attempt to clamp down on an international child pornography network. 

Following Beale’s arrest police found thousands of images and videos of children -- some as young as only a few days old -- being raped, tortured and even murdered. 

They found internet addresses of about 300 other alleged paedophiles and have since arrested several others as a result.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant-Colonel Heila Niemand from the Gauteng family violence, and sexual offences unit, who led the investigation in South Africa said that the sentence was the harshest that had ever been handed down in a child pornography possession case in South Africa.

This was confirmed by Women and Men Against Child Abuse director Miranda Jordan-Friedmann, who said that she was especially impressed that Jacobs indicated that the viewing of child pornography was not a victimless crime and that for each viewed image a child had to endure horrific abuse.

Beale was further sentenced to a R500 fine or 30 days behind bars for the possession of dagga. Police also discovered a small amount of dagga in his possession during his arrest.