A MAN who went into online chatrooms and downloaded indecent images of children as young as five has been spared jail.

Wayne Johnson, of Bishop Auckland, was caught with more than 500 images of children on his phone when he was arrested in June.

Dr Chris Wood, prosecuting, told Durham Crown Court Johnson had been open with police about the forum he had visited to find the images.

He said: “He was introduced to a forum where they were sharing images of children. Initially they were of teens, with some going to the lowest age of ten.

“When he received images he said they would automatically download and save to his phone.

“He exited the app and re-entered out of curiosity. When images were being received again they were of children as young as five years old.

“He admits some of the images were taken by adults who were making children perform sexual acts.

“He subsequently deleted the apps because he knew it was wrong and acknowledges he should have deleted the images.”

Johnson, of Woodland Road, pleaded guilty to three counts of having indecent images when he appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court last month.

Ian West, mitigating, told the court Johnson had been struggling as a result of losing his job and the breakdown of his marriage.

He said: “He got to the point where he was living along was was drinking up to 120 units of alcohol a day.

“He was using websites to look at pornography. One thing led to another and the rest is history.

“Following his arrest, he is now living with his parents and has referred himself for alcohol treatment which continues to this day.

“Now he is down to 20 units a day, which is about two bottles of wine in the evening and he holds down a good job.”

He added: “You are dealing with a man of 50 who has never been in trouble and was committing the offending when he was in a very bad place, which he is no longer in.”

Judge Jonathan Carroll said: “What you need to understand is whatever your personal circumstances were at the time, that when you access this kind of material you are part and parcel in driving the market that makes other people create it.

“You have a role in the abuse of actual, real life children and that is why this is serious.”

He gave him an eight month prison sentence, suspended for two years, during which time he has to complete 30 rehabilitation activity days to address his sexual offending, and will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO). He will also have to sign the sex offenders register.