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Boys Brigade and church volunteer who traded child porn images is remanded for sentencing

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Neil Cunningham outside Craigavon Crown Court

Neil Cunningham outside Craigavon Crown Court

Neil Cunningham outside Craigavon Crown Court

An active member of a church youth club and Boys Brigade downloaded and traded images of children being abused and directed activities of an underage child in a web chat, a court heard.

Craigavon Crown Court heard that, in an intelligence-led operation, police raided the home of 25-year-old Neil Cunningham and when they seized a computer, a laptop and a storage device, he immediately confessed there were indecent photographs of children on the hardware for which he was responsible.

Arrested and interviewed, prosecution lawyer Ian Tannahill described how Cunningham admitted to police that he had been looking at images of children for approximately 18 months and that he had traded some images with other people through internet forums.

While Cunningham, of Glebe Manor in Hillsborough, also admitted that he had directed the activities of a 15-year-old in a web chat, Mr Tannahill said no charges were laid in relation to that, although Judge Patrick Lynch QC said that was a "worrying" element to the case.

Cunningham did, however, plead guilty to a total of 35 offences committed on dates between January 1, 2011 and May 18, 2013, including 25 counts of making indecent photographs of children, eight of distributing or showing indecent images of children, and two further charges of possessing extreme pornography.

Mr Tannahill said the images of extreme pornography related to acts of bestiality which did not involve children. He said that of the 932 still images and 19 videos uncovered by police, the large majority were in the least serious categories of levels one and two, but there were eight at levels four and five.

Images at level four depict sexual acts between adults and children, while things classified at level five include elements of sadomasochism.

Defence QC Peter Irvine said Cunningham was extremely remorseful, "his life is in tatters", and from being "heavily involved in church activities" he now leads "a totally isolated life".

"Considerable activities with the youth club and Boys Brigade has already been terminated," said the lawyer.

He submitted that Cunningham was suitable for a probation-run "internet sexual offending programme" and revealed that, at the behest of his father, Cunningham had completed a two-day counselling programme.

Remanding a shocked-looking Cunningham into custody, Judge Lynch said it was a "difficult case given the gravity of the offending itself, distribution is an aggravating factor and there's the contact between the defendant and a young person", so he wanted to consider all matters before passing sentence on Tuesday.

Belfast Telegraph