Belfast Telegraph

Civil servant with 200,000 child porn images spared jail

By Ashleigh McDonald

A civil servant who downloaded more than 200,000 indecent images and videos of children told police he had a sexual interest in youngsters "in an online capacity", a court has heard.

Thomas Stephen Stewart was spared jail after a court was told that "over 99%" of the 218,375 images were in the least serious category and that he had been seeking help for his addiction to child porn.

He was made the subject of a two-year probation order and was placed on the sex offenders' register for five years after a judge determined that intensive rehabilitation programmes to address his offending "would be the best way of safeguarding the public in the future."

The 60-year-old's offending came to light after his then Belfast home was searched in a joint operation by the PSNI and National Crime Agency on June 2, 2015. It followed information that indecent images of children were being accessed from the address.

Items were seized and during police interview Stewart disclosed there was another electronic device that was not found in the house that also contained indecent images of children.

A Crown prosecutor said Stewart, whose address was given as Dufferin Avenue in Bangor, made "full and frank" admissions during police interviews and admitted having "a sexual interest in children in an online capacity for some years".

Belfast Crown Court heard that after several electronic devices were examined, a total of 218,375 images were located on a computer and hard drive.

The prosecutor said that while 99.93% of the images were in the least serious category, a "handful" were in the most serious.

Stewart was charged with and admitted 26 counts of making indecent images of children, three charges of possessing an extreme pornographic image and one count of possessing a prohibited image of a child.

His offending spanned from September 2008 to March 2015.

Judge Patricia Smyth was told by the prosecutor that many of the images were "stored in a chaotic manner", that Stewart did not share them with anyone else and his criminality was "solitary".

Defence barrister Denis Boyd said while the number of images found on his client's computer and hard drive was large, this was because they were downloaded as Zip files.

Reiterating the point that over 99% were in the least serious category, Mr Boyd said Stewart began using adult porn when his wife became ill and that this led to a "downward slide in to the sort of criminality he faces today".

Telling Judge Smyth that his client's remorse was genuine, Mr Boyd said that since his arrest Stewart had been attending organisations and programmes to address his offending.

The defence barrister also said Stewart "has reflected on the harm he has caused" and was aware of the suffering of the youngsters depicted in the images and videos.

Asking Judge Smyth not to send the defendant to jail, Mr Boyd said: "This man can be dealt with by a rehabilitation programme that will not only assist him, but will also protect the public."

Saying she accepted that most images were in the lowest category and that Stewart's offending did not involve anyone else, Judge Smyth acknowledged his clear criminal record and full co-operation with police.

When Judge Smyth asked Stewart if he agreed to be placed on probation for two years, he tearfully replied: "I do indeed. Thank you very much."

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