Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Judge allows child porn addict to walk free

Northern Ireland’s top judge has delivered a scathing warning about the dangers of children using the internet — at the same time as allowing a prolific collector of child pornography to escape jail.

Christopher McCartney (21), who gathered more than 10,000 indecent images and videos of children, was allowed to walk free by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan at the Court of Appeal yesterday.

McCartney, a student of Benson Street, Lisburn, began downloading indecent images of children as young as three when he was a teenager. He carried on downloading as an adult by which time he had accumulated nearly 10,000 images and video clips. Many of the images were in the most serious category which includes images of sadism.

In April he pleaded guilty to 30 counts of making an indecent image of a child and was sentenced to three years’ probation with a condition he participates in a sex offenders programme. The case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General on the grounds that the sentence imposed was unduly lenient.

But yesterday the Appeal Court upheld the original sentence saying there were “special circumstances” in this case as the “offender was corrupted as a child and his offending is the product of that corruption”.

The court heard that McCartney had been “confused about sexual matters and his own sexual orientation” and he began to communicate, mainly with homosexual males, in internet chat rooms. They suggested images for him to look at and over time he is said to have become addicted to viewing such images, which became “more serious” in nature.

Judge Morgan said that this was a case of an offender “who was corrupted as a child and his culpability lies in the fact that as he got older he failed to take steps to deal with his (addiction) and continued to download and store increasingly serious images of child sex abuse”.

He added: “There is no suggestion that he was engaged in the distribution or showing of any of this material.”

Judge Morgan then issued a warning about dangers to children using the internet.

“Although it is clear that there is much that is positive about the internet, this case demonstrates the dangers to which children can be exposed as a result of which they may be corrupted, or indeed in some cases, exploited,” he said.

Northern Ireland does not have its own sentencing guidelines for these type of offences.

But sentencing guidelines issued by the English Court of Appeal in another case say that the downloading or possession of a large quantity of material at levels four or five (the most serious levels) is a serious offence.

For an adult without previous convictions after a contested trial a custodial sentence of between 12 months and three years will generally be appropriate.

This sends out the wrong message, says DUP man

As a teenager Christopher McCartney spent hours communicating with strangers on internet chat rooms. It was in these cyberspace meeting points he was first introduced to images of child sex abuse and soon became addicted.

By the age of 20 he had downloaded more than 10,000 indecent images, some of them in the worst categories.

Despite the disturbingly high number of images in his possession McCartney received a non-custodial sentence because he was “corrupted” in these chat rooms and his offending was “the product” of that corruption.

DUP Policing Board member Jimmy Spratt spoke of his disappointment that McCartney had not received an immediate custodial sentence.

He said: “Any sort of offence which involves child pornography must warrant an immediate custodial sentence and I am bitterly disappointed that, even after this case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General, that the Lord Chief Justice has not seen fit to impose a stronger sentence.”

During yesterday’s ruling the Lord Chief Justice described the case as exceptional because McCartney had been corrupted as a child through his use of the internet.

But this appears at odds with the view expressed recently by the Child Exploitation and On-Line Protection Centre (CEOP) that the internet “does not create paedophiles. It just provides an opportunity”.

CEOP, which is headed by Northern Ireland man JIm Gamble, said it did not like to comment on specific cases but stressed that behind each image is a real child being abused: “In any case related to the sexual abuse of children there are many complicated issues to consider for the police, judiciary and child protection communities.

“However, we must never forget that behind each image is real child suffering real abuse and offenders that use technology to download these images are fuelling the demand for further, newer material to be produced,” a spokeswoman said.

UUP MLA Basil McCrea said: “Society has yet to find an appropriate way to regulate unacceptable imagery on the internet. But it is something which a legislative Assembly like Stormont must consider.”

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