THE career of a senior fire officer and school governor is in tatters after he was unmasked as a pervert with a “disturbing” interest in child pornography.

Gary Mason’s collection of sick pictures was unearthed when police searched his home in Hartlepool during an unconnected investigation.

Officers found a total of 1,861 images on his computers, and he was suspended from his roles at a secondary school and Cleveland Fire Brigade.

Yesterday, officials at High Tunstall College of Science, in Hartlepool, and the fire authority said the 49-year-old has since been dismissed.

At an earlier Teesside Crown Court hearing, Mason blamed his diabetes and an imbalance in his blood-sugar levels for his warped behaviour.

His barrister, Robin Denny, said neither the disgraced former soldier nor a psychiatrist who examined him were able to explain what he did.

Judge George Moorhouse said Mason’s actions – as well as an aggressive change in his personality – may have been linked to his time in Iraq.

The court heard that the father-of-two spent five years downloading indecent images from the internet, and one of the pictures showed a baby.

Mr Denny said: “There must have been something very disturbing which suddenly changed this man from a very respectable school governor.

“It seems to have been some sort of compulsion.”

Mason, of Sandbanks Drive, Hartlepool, admitted 17 charges of making indecent photographs of children between April 2005 and last April.

He was given an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with supervision, and an order to attend a sex offenders’ treatment programme.

Judge Moorhouse also ordered Mason to sign on the sex offenders’ register for the next ten years and banned him for life from working with children.

The court heard Mason was an arson awareness co-ordinator and visited schools and colleges to give advice to youngsters about fire dangers.

Last night, High Tunstall headteacher Mark Tilling said: “The offences do not relate in any way to his activities as a former governor at High Tunstall.”

He said Mason was suspended as a governor as soon as the allegations came to light, and was dismissed five months later, in October.

A fire brigade spokesman said officials had co-operated with the police during the investigation and Mason was no longer employed by them.

Detective Inspector Mike Cane, from Cleveland Police’s vulnerability unit, said: “These were sickening images of children being sexually abused.”