A former Christian rock musician and special needs classroom assistant who secretly trawled the dark web for vile images of child sex abuse and rape, has narrowly escaped being sent to jail.
Jekyll and Hyde pervert Jonathan Mark Hobson toured Europe, the USA and Canada for three years with a Christian rock band, Downpatrick Crown Court heard last week.
But the east Belfast man also "masqueraded" as a 12-year-old girl on apps popular with kids and searched the web to locate, download and share sickening images.
Chillingly, the court also heard that Hobson, from Reaville Park in Dundonald, was a classroom assistant in a special school in Co Down.
A prosecuting counsel said when cops raided Hobson's home on October 17, 2017, he immediately told them: "I have a problem with it."
But Hobson also claimed there was "never any thoughts about the school".
He further confessed, "I want to co-operate with you - I'm glad you're here", said the lawyer adding that in all, nine devices including laptops and mobile phones were seized and examined.
Those examinations uncovered a total of 92,463 indecent or prohibited images and video files across the range of categories A, B and C.
Category A is the most horrific as it depicts scenes including rape and/or scenes of a sexual nature involving an animal or sadism.
The Christian band musician had 392 videos and 1,662 images classified at category A with an estimation that across all the categories, the age range of the vulnerable victims was between just five and nine years old.
Forensic examinations also revealed that Hobson had installed a 'Tor browser' on a laptop to search through the dark web and which also allowed files to be shared. He had installed the same secretive browser along with other file sharing software on a second laptop where he had saved shortcuts to access child pornography sites and had saved files to be shared with others with names and titles too graphic to repeat in a family newspaper but which refer to sex acts and specific ages of the children therein.
Arrested and interviewed, Hobson made full admissions over the images and also confessed that he had posed as a 12-year-old girl on the apps Kik and Musical.ly in order to swap indecent images where in among the chat logs were comments like "wanna trade? I like 'em young".
Admitting that he had searched for 10-year-old children, Hobson told police he looked at indecent images and videos "sometimes daily, sometimes weekly".
At an earlier hearing Hobson, who appeared in court via videolink from his solicitor's office, confessed his guilt to a total of 36 offences - 30 counts of making indecent images of kids, five of having prohibited images of children and one charge of distributing indecent images of children, all committed on various dates between February 2015 and October 2017.
Defence counsel Mark Barlow said that in addition to his early admissions, Hobson had sought counselling through his church and effectively had a clear criminal record.
During his sentencing remarks, Judge Geoffrey Miller said Hobson came from a "Christian household" and had a "happy and supportive childhood" before later touring with a Christian band.
When he came back to Northern Ireland he had been a classroom assistant at a Co Down school for children and young people with additional special educational needs.
Against that background, said the judge, were offences which "show that this is a man who has a deeply warped sense of sexuality".
He said Hobson described to a probation officer of "feeling like two people, a Jekyll and Hyde personality - the one happy and balanced...while the other lived through a 'virtual reality' where he accessed this material and was aroused by it."
Judge Miller said although his guilty pleas and clear record were mitigating features, there were multiple aggravating factors including the ages of the children, the amount of material, some of which was shared, deliberate searching for indecent images and a "large number of victims".
Hobson appeared quite emotional when Judge Miller told him he had "thought long and hard about the correct sentence", adding that "the easy thing for me to do, and in fact perhaps the proper thing for me to do, is simply to sentence you to a substantial period of immediate custody".
He told the pervert, however, that "not without some considerable hesitation", he had been persuaded to impose an enhanced combination order of two years probation and 100 hours of community service including "carefully crafted" programmes designed to address his sexual proclivities and reduce the risk of him reoffending.
Judge Miller also imposed a five year Sexual Offences Prevention Order and ordered Hobson to remain on the police sex offenders' register for five years.