Dutch police witness testifies about investigation into accused in Amanda Todd case

·4 min read
In a YouTube video shortly before she took her life in 2012, Amanda Todd told the story about how she was lured and sexually exploited over the internet.  (YouTube - image credit)
In a YouTube video shortly before she took her life in 2012, Amanda Todd told the story about how she was lured and sexually exploited over the internet. (YouTube - image credit)

A Dutch police officer who investigated the man on trial for 'sextorting' Amanda Todd testified Thursday as prosecutors began introducing a body of evidence which they claim ties the accused to the harassment of the B.C. teenager.

Appearing through a video link from the Netherlands, Wybren Vandermeer said he found unique identifiers linking digital devices to the use of a wireless internet router examined as part of an investigation into Aydin Coban.

Coban has pleaded not guilty to five criminal charges — including child luring, possession of child pornography and extortion.

Prosecutors claim he was the man behind 22 fake social media identities used to scare Amanda Todd into providing sexual images of herself to keep an online tormentor at bay.

The teenager died by suicide in October 2012. A video she made describing her anguish went viral in the wake of her death, highlighting the issue of cyberbullying.

Investigation called 'Disclosure'

Vandermeer is an inspector with the Dutch National Police force, but said he prefers to be addressed as "mister."

He told the judge and jury he was part of an investigation called 'Disclosure' which took him to a home in a rural holiday park about 120 kilometres south of Amsterdam in January 2014.

Wearing a red plaid shirt, brown hair tied back in a thick ponytail, Vandermeer gave detailed technical evidence about the process through which he was able to determine that two digital devices — both called Admins-PC — had logged onto the router.

The direct connection between the device and Coban was not explained, but prosecutors said in their opening statement Monday that the 43-year-old was arrested at a three-storey "holiday bungalow" in 2014 where evidence suggested he had accessed the internet through a router in a neighbouring residence.

Vandermeer was the first in what is expected to be a series of witnesses from the Netherlands — the country where Coban was living before he was extradited to Canada in 2020 to face trial.

According to the Crown, Canadian police were unable to identify a suspect when they investigated Amanda Todd's complaints in 2010 and 2011.

But the efforts of Dutch police gave the case new life in 2013 and 2014.

They first searched Coban's home when he was not there and then returned to arrest him, seizing a desktop computer, a laptop and hard drives.

Crown prosecutor Louise Kenworthy said images from those devices were examined by an RCMP forensic specialist who found evidence of a number of the accounts used to harass Todd despite the deletion of a large amount of material.

Kenworthy said there was evidence the Dutch devices had at one point contained videos that included the file names 'Amanda' and 'Amanda Todd.'

"The content of those videos was no longer viewable," Kenworthy told the jury Monday.

"The Crown theory is that Mr. Coban uploaded one or more of these videos and subsequently sent hyperlinks to Ms. Todd, her friends and family."

'Exactly what sextortion and exploitation is'

Vandermeer's evidence was sandwiched between two days of testimony from a Vancouver Police Department digital forensic specialist.

Acting Sgt. Robin Shook worked in the counter-exploitation unit before his current position in the digital forensic unit. He gave the jury detailed explanations of internet applications ranging from Gmail to YouTube, and the meaning of commonly used online slang and emojis.

He also explained the origins of video and chat services including Skype and Facebook, as well as services like Dialogoo, which allows users to add a chat function to a website, and motherless.com, a site which he said primarily posts pornography.

While some of the evidence was extremely technical and dry, the testimony speaks to the challenge the Crown faces in tying the accused to social media accounts that can be bounced through the layers of the internet to elude identification.

Jane Wolsak
Jane Wolsak

Under cross-examination, one of Coban's lawyers displayed a photograph of the small home where the router examined by Vandermeer was found, and suggested it was located in a different holiday park than the one where his client was arrested.

Vandermeer said he didn't know.

The lawyer pointed out the size of the trees in the picture and the presence of brick walls, which he suggested would hinder a connection to the internet from outside the house.

If Coban was living in a different holiday park, his lawyer asked whether the increased distance would make it unlikely that his devices could connect to the router — either through wifi or a hard cable.

Vandermeer said both those factors could be variables.

Coban is not charged in Todd's death.

He watched the proceedings from the prisoner's box, where he sat in a dark coloured shirt, separated by glass and a few feet from the bench at the back of the courtroom where Amanda Todd's mother, Carol Todd, watched him.

Jason Proctor/CBC
Jason Proctor/CBC

Outside the courtroom Todd said she is glad her the details of her daughter's ordeal are emerging.

"It's brought to light exactly what sextortion and exploitation is," she told the CBC.

"Now we're sharing them and we're giving examples of what happened to Amanda and what can happen to others with online exploitation. And I can only hope that this is a learning experience and provides more awareness around coffee coolers and dinner tables."

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