A man found to have downloaded 78 indecent images of children, mostly in video form, over an 18-month period told a court he was not a paedophile, adding: “I just lost my way.”

Police attended defendant Gary Ford’s home, in Peterlee, to carry out a search on February 21, last year, seizing a desk-top computer for examination.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, told Durham Crown Court that all the images, 43 in the most serious category, were found, stored in both accessible and inaccessible locations.

Mr Towers said 42 of the 43 ‘Category A’ images were in video form, amounting to six hours and 41 minutes in duration, featuring children as young as six being abused.

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Similarly, all bar one of the 11 ‘Category B’ images were videos, and of the other material, the age range of children featured was between two and 15.

The images were all downloaded by the defendant between July 2020 and November 2021.

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Ford was arrested and interviewed, and made admisions over downloading the images.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent images of children when he first appeared before magistrates recently.

Mr Towers told the crown court sentencing hearing that the 54-year-old defendant, of Franklyn Road, Peterlee, has only two non-related previous offences, both of some age, on his record.

Recorder Tahir Khan KC told the defendant that as a result of the conviction he would be subject to restrictions over his future use of the internet, by way of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, which will run for ten years.

Ford, who was representing himself, said he understood the terms of the order, which were read out to him, and he pledged to abide by it in full.

He said he only now makes limited use of computers.

Ford said there was “no excuse” if he had viewed just one offending video, but the fact there were more than 60 made him feel, “so ashamed”.

He said his work with a building company does not involve coming into contact with any children and he lives at home alone with his two dogs.

Ford urged Recorder Khan not to send him to prison, adding: “We all deserve a second chance.

“It will never happen again.

“I’m not a paedophile, I just lost my way.

“I was so stupid, I just lost my way.”

Recorder Khan said he was persuaded that the Probation Service could deal with the defendant in the community.

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Imposing a 12-month prison sentence, he suspended it for two years, during which the defendant will have to attend 40 rehabilitation activity days, with the Probation Service, and perform 150 hours’ unpaid work.

Recorder Khan added that failure to comply with the order, or committing any further offences, would leave the defendant in, “a precarious position”.

He also ordered forfeiture and destruction of the defendant's seized computer.