A PAEDOPHILE caught with one of the biggest collections of indecent images of children told police: "I'm just a hoarder."

Simon Cole had spent ten years amassing a sickening library of photographs of child abuse at his home in Darlington.

When he was arrested, the 44-year-old loner - found with 850,000 obscene pictures - said: "I'm addicted to kid stuff."

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The scale of Cole's collection shocked experienced experts, who said last night: "It really was beyond comprehension."

A judge at Teesside Crown Court described the hoard as "vast" and said it was time to time to consider a new approach.

Mirroring calls from The Northern Echo's campaign Keep Kids Safe, Judge Howard Crowson said Cole should not dodge jail.

The pervert's lawyer, Ben Pegman, had urged the judge to consider a suspended prison sentence, so he could get help.

But the judge said: "We see this argument many times, which appears to be 'unless I suspend it, he will not get treatment'.

"I'm afraid I take the view that an appropriate penalty should be imposed and you will, hopefully, get treatment in another way."

The Echo launched its campaign - since backed by police chiefs - last year after an apparent anomaly in the law emerged.

Defence lawyers were often arguing that sex offenders would not get treatment in prison unless they got at least four years.

Generally, because of sentencing guidelines, people caught with downloaded images of children were, as a result, spared jail.

Children's charities, politicians, police bosses and detectives who investigate child abuse cases supported calls for a change.

Judge Crowson told Cole, of Charnwood Drive, Darlington: "I take the view that this sentence must be served."

He said if the "isolated and introverted" defendant was serious about wanting help, he would get it when he was freed.

Mr Pegman had told the court that Cole had referred himself to hospital and taken the internet from his home since his arrest.

"He is someone who is crying out for treatment and help," said the solicitor. "It is quite clear he is introverted.

"The only contact he has day-to-day is with his elderly parents. That relationship remains supportive, but it is the only form of friendship he has.

"He comes across as an extremely broken man, and an extremely worried man about these proceedings.

"He was frank and forthright with the police, expressed distress and disgust, and a desire to seek help for what he knew to be an addiction.

"He thinks, having never fitted in and been something of a misfit all the way back to his school days, has never been fully explored."

Prosecutor Harry Hadfield told the court that police found the images when they searched Cole's home in May last year.

Experts discovered he had been downloading pictures for nearly ten years, and had been sharing them with other paedophiles.

The court heard that offenders often delete images after viewing them, and they are only found when equipment is forensically examined.

All of Cole's collection - which included girls as young as one - were stored and had not been deleted, said Mr Hadfield.

"In interview he said he was deeply ashamed and needed to stop," said the prosecutor. "He said he had accessed over ten years, apologising, saying he was a hoarder."

Jailing him for 20 months, Judge Crowson told Cole: "This was a vast library you had amassed over many years.

"It is much more common for us to find they had been deleted by people who want to see them for a moment or two. It is significant that you wanted to store these.

"You had them stored carefully, in folders for your future enjoyment. You were in possession of what was a systematically-stored collection."

Cole admitted charges of making indecent images between May 2004 and April 2013 and distributing indecent images.

He was also put on the sex offenders' register for ten years, and was an indefinite ban on having unsupervised contact with under-16s.

As part of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, restrictions were also put on his future computer use.