A MAN of previous good character suffered a fall from grace after police seized computer equipment and found it contained indecent images of children.

Durham Crown Court was told a search warrant was executed at Stuart Nichol’s home, in Castle Eden, in which officers removed electrical devices, including a laptop computer, on September 28, 2020.

He was interviewed and admitted possessing indecent images, stating he had been downloading them for several years, but he claimed he had no sexual interest in children, and said he had been suffering from mental health difficulties at the time.

Examination of the devices confirmed the presence of 106 offending images, 39 in the most serious category, all but seven of which were videos.

Victoria Lamballe, prosecuting, said they featured children as young as three being abused, including one near nine-minute video of a five-year-old girl being raped by an adult.

Miss Lamballe said cleaning software had been installed and used several times in the period leading up to the defendant’s arrest.

When re-interviewed, he again accepted downloading the images, but claimed he was gathering them in a folder with a view to reporting it to police, again claiming he had no sexual interest in children.

Appearing at a plea hearing at the court, however, the 63-year-old defendant, of North View, admitted three counts of making (downloading) indecent images of children, between January and August, 2020.

Read more: 'Bored' ex-JP collected thousands of indecent child images from the internet

Jennifer Coxon, in mitigation, said Mr Nichol has been, “extremely honest” about the images found on his lap top, and despite the charges only relating to 2020, he admitted downloading them from 2013.

“He explained he held a respectable job in sales, going all around the world in his job, but in 2013 his brother passed away.

“He was close to his brother and found it hard to talk about his passing.

“He left his job in 2013 and worked for other companies and, with one, he received a laptop and thought images popped up unnecessarily, but he accepts from 2013 he downloaded them and put them in a folder on his desktop.”

Miss Coxon told the court: “He’s 63 and essentially of good character.”

She referred to the probation background report which stated that it was felt the service could work with him to address his behaviour within the community.

“He’s clearly capable of working with the Probation Service and it’s highly unlikely he’ll be back here.”

Judge James Adkin said those who view such, “repellent material” only help to provide a market for more to be produced and made “readily accessible” on the internet.

But he said he was satisfied that Nichol does not pose a risk to the public and he can work to address his behaviour with the Probation Service.

He imposed a ten-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, during which the defendant must complete 40 rehabilitation activity days with the Probation Service and undergo 180 hours’ unpaid work.

Nichol was made subject of registration as a sex offender and restrictions over his future internet use, under the terms of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, both for ten years.

Judge Adkin, who also made a forfeiture and destruction order for the seized material, warned the defendant that if he fails to comply with the terms of sentence and court orders, “you would put yourself in peril.”

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on newsdesk@nne.co.uk or contact 01325 505054