A THEOLOGY professor avoided a prison sentence after indecent images of children were found stored on his domestic computer equipment.

But the discovery of the 165 images in a police raid at the home of Professor Charles Thomas Robert Hayward, led to the loss of the esteemed academic’s good character.

The 68-year-old bachelor was arrested after police visited his home in Neville’s Cross, Durham, last January.

Durham Crown Court was told three computers and 11 memory sticks contained 165 indecent images of male youngsters.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said three were in the most serious category, while 45 other film clips, were of eight hours and 25 minutes’ duration.

All had been downloaded and stored by the defendant after October, 2010.

Mr Baker said the boys featured were considered to be aged 12 - 17.

Hayward admitted being sole user of the computers but expressed surprise they may feature children.

Mr Baker said the defendant agreed he was sexually attracted to men aged 18 to 22, and claimed he would not knowingly download indecent images of children.

He told police many of the websites said they only featured legal material, but Mr Baker countered that it must have been obvious some featured younger participants.

Hayward admitted possessing indecent photographs of a child, having previously denied making the images.

Robin Patton, mitigating, said the defendant was under the impression the footage would not feature anyone under 18.

He said Hayward hired a computer expert at "considerable expense" whose report led to his denial of making the images being accepted by the prosecution.

“It’s accepted he did not go looking for this sort of imagery. His mistake was not simply deleting the files when, arguably, someone else may have thought they featured people slightly under 18.

“They are borderline and, therefore, tipped into the area of criminality, if retained.”

Mr Patton told the court: “This is a very sad day for him. He’s 68 and led an honest, and, industrious life.

“He’s been a very distinguished academic at this city’s university. Many of his friends still support him and know him to be a decent and honourable man.”

The court heard the defendant retired from the university last year and has become more housebound due to ill health.

A probation assessment said there was a low risk of re-offending.

Recorder Ian Atherton said a community supervision sentence would serve more purpose than a short period of custody in a case of someone of, “hitherto good character.”

He passed a two-year community supervision order, while he also made Hayward subject to a sexual harm prevention order and registration as a sex offender, both for five years.

Recorder Atherton ordered forfeiture and destruction of the seized computer equipment.