A PERVERT who downloaded thousands of child abuse images before sharing some on social media has narrowly avoided an immediate prison sentence.

Alexander Smith was caught after police were alerted to his online activities and raided his North East home.

The 40-year-old had hidden the vile images in a secret folder on his mobile phone but handed police the password to examine his haul of sick pictures and videos.

Teesside Crown Court heard how he had collected the indecent images over a two year period before his perverted behaviour was uncovered.

Matthew Hopkins, prosecuting, said: "When they searched his home they (the police) seized a mobile phone and when it was analysed it showed that the defendant had engaged in three online chats with three separate individuals and he had sent them a total of 14 indecent images of girls aged between eight and 14."

The court heard how Smith had 1,358 still and moving images in Category A, the most serious offence; 781 in category B; and a further 2,055 in Category C between April 2019 and June 2021.

Mr Hopkins said Smith had hidden the files in a secret vault on his phone but fully co-operated with the police.

He added that Smith started looking for legal images before 'stumbling across' the illegal images and starting to collect them before 'stupidly' sharing them.

Smith, of Alice Street, Sunderland, pleaded guilty to three charges of making indecent images of children and a further charge of distributing indecent images of children.

Chris Baker, in mitigation, said his client deserved credit for his early guilty pleas and for assisting the police with their investigation by disclosing the password for the locked file on his mobile phone.

Judge Chris Smith sentenced the defendant to nine months in custody, suspended for two years.

"You had the good sense to cooperate with the police, to admit to what you had done and allow them access to your device and that enable them to see you had shared some of the images with others," he said.

"If you had been sharing the highest category images with others than an immediate prison sentence would have been foremost in my mind.

"Your cooperation with the police and earliest guilty plea means I can take a course with you that means you will not serve an immediate sentence."

He added: "Those who trade in these images, those who seek them out and collect them just further the vile industry that is involved in capturing them."You need to understand that if you don't comply with the order your position will be more serious."

Smith, who committed the offences in Hartlepool, was also ordered to attend 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days to address his behaviour.

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