A disgraced businessman who claims he was wrongly convicted of downloading child abuse images - involving photos and video clips of boys and girls being spanked - has launched a bid to clear his name.

George Steen, 65, from Darlington accepted having downloaded "sexy images" - including pictures of women being spanked, Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC told London's Appeal Court.

But Steen insisted the "models" depicted in the several thousands of images found on his computers were all over 18 and legal and that he never knowingly downloaded child abuse images.

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Steen, of Greenbank Road, received a two-year community sentence at Teesside Crown Court last January after he was convicted of nine charges of making indecent images of children, two of possessing them and one of evading importation duty.

He was detained by customs officers at Heathrow in July 2010 after returning from Bangkok, said Judge Hilliard, and his laptop computer was examined at length.

"There were still images and film which the prosecution said were indecent images of children being spanked, or showing the effects of having been spanked," he added.

It was Steen's case that he "had no interest in children", and although he had browsed "spanking websites", the models concerned were all adults.

His case reached the Appeal Court as he challenged his convictions, with claims that compelling evidence proves that none of the individuals in the seized photos were children.

He also argued that the trial judge wrongly directed the jury on a key issue in the case.

Judge Hilliard, sitting with Lord Justice Davis and Mr Justice Supperstone, granted him permission to appeal.

He concluded: "We think it is arguable that the trial judge may not have properly directed the jury as to the mental element necessary for the prosecution to prove its case".

Steen's full appeal will be heard at an unspecified future date.

In 2003, Steen was arrested by detectives from the Serious Fraud Office who were investigating a worldwide scam which swindled £1.5 million out of wealthy victims.

He fled to the Philippines midway through his trial at Southwark Crown Court but was convicted in his absence and later deported and jailed for six years.