An ex-soldier who admitted having a sexual interest in young girls has narrowly avoided an immediate prison sentence.

Matthew Dent was arrested by police following a tip-off about his online activities and when a search was carried out on his digital devices more than 100 sickening images were recovered.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 22-year-old had become increasingly isolated after he was medically discharged from the army after he dislocated both of his shoulders.

Tabitha Buck, prosecuting, said Dent sent a number of messages through a chatroom where he admitted he was a ‘paedo’ and was interested in girls aged between seven and ten.

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Dent, of Marne Road, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to possession of 70 indecent images of children in Category A – the most serious offence; possession of 35 Category B images; Possession of 16 Category C images; six prohibited images; and one image of extreme pornography involving bestiality.

Marte Alnaes, mitigating, said her client had been struggling with his mental heath after he was discharged from the army and was unable to return home but was now in a relationship with a woman who was aware of his conviction.

She said: “He is embarrassed and ashamed about what he has done.

“He says he doesn’t quite know what came over him and he was struggling with his mental health at the time.

“He does accept that there was some sexual interest in children for a short period of time.”

Recorder Aisha Wadoodi sentenced Dent to take part in an intensive sex offenders’ treatment programme and attend 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days.

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She said: “It goes without saying that if it wasn’t for the fact that people download and look at these images these young children would not have to undergo this torture, which is exactly what it is, to satisfy the needs of deviant people.”

Dent was issued with a five-year sexual harm prevention order and ordered to sign on the sex offenders’ register for the same period.

The judge added: “If you were sent to prison, you would be there for a short period of time and would not be able to access treatment that is available to you on the outside.

“It is for the benefit of the public that you don’t go to prison today.”