A school employee, said to have been, “struggling with a sex addiction”, believed he was engaging in online communication with young girls while he was overseeing children in a classroom.

Mark Andrew Woodhead was supposed to be dealing with youngsters with behavioural issues in his job role, but at the same time he was on social media platforms ‘chatting’ in sexualised terms to females who purported to be either 14 or under 14.

Durham Crown Court heard was told he even sent the two ‘girls’ he believed he was chatting to intimate images of himself while he was supposed to be supervising the youngsters in his charge.

He then tried to solicit images from the 'girls' he believed he was communicating with, in return.

In reality, however, the ‘girls’ were actually undercover officers seeking to catch paedophiles operating on social media platforms.

The Northern Echo: Mark Andrew Woodhead starting 30-month prison sentence imposed at Durham Crown Court for attempted

Robin Turton, prosecuting, said when the defendant was arrested over his online activities in May this year he claimed it was, “just a fantasy and nothing was going to come of it”.

The court heard that the day after his arrest he resigned from his position at the school.

Examination of his phone revealed indecent images of children, some taken by Woodhead, and some which he distributed to like-minded individuals.

When formally cautioned and interviewed he initially made no comment.

But when later questioned he told police he had been struggling with a sex addiction for 30 years which had “got out of hand”, despite claiming he was not attracted to children.

The 48-year-old defendant, of Devonshire Road, Belmont, Durham, admitted two counts of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, plus other charges of taking, making and distributing indecent images of children.

The Northern Echo: Jailed sex offender Mark Woodhead claimed to have had a 30-year sex addiction

Tony Davis, in mitigation, said Woodhead had engaged with an organisation known as “Stop it Now” to address his addiction, and supplied letters from that agency and the defendant’s wife to the court.

“Plainly, this defendant had struggled with a 30-year addiction to pornography.

“That is something that inevitably will not take a short time to overcome.

“It’s plainly a deep-rooted illness, which has manifested itself in the behaviour that is before the court.

“He bitterly now regrets his actions and entered his guilty pleas at the first opportunity, having made those admissions in his second police interview.

“But he’s a man who has obviously taken steps to address his behaviour.”

Mr Davis said the defendant had, of his own volition, also reached out to seek assistance from a therapist in Yorkshire, which he said began the day after his arrest.

“Immediately upon arrest he resigned from his position at the school.

“He understands, given his conviction and admissions to police, that he will never be able to work with children again and that will have a severely restricting effect on his life going forward.”

Mr Davis said the addiction suffered by the defendant covered, “a panoply of sexual behaviour, not merely in terms of underage girls, and for a period he was addicted to sites involving trans people.”

He urged Judge Jo Kidd that a sentence could be passed to enable the defendant to continue his rehabilitation in the community.

But Judge Kidd said the offences committed in April and May this year were an extension of Woodhead's actions from 2018 of making and distributing indecent images of children.

“It’s clear to me your sexual interest in children spans at least a period of five years and you gained serious sexual gratification surrounded by children while engaging in this communication and viewing child pornography while at work.

“You told the author of the pre-sentence report that you don’t have a sexual interest in children.

“Well, you clearly do.

“You tell me through your counsel that it’s an illness.

“I don’t accept that submission. You were significantly interested in viewing images of children.

“That was a deliberate act on your behalf as an individual working with children to gratify your sexual interest.

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“It’s unfortunate you only reached out to that foundation after your arrest as you clearly took no measures prior to it to address your interest and urges in children beforehand.”

Imposing an immediate 30-month prison sentence, she also made Woodhead subject of registration as a sex offender and restrictions under the terms of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, both indefinitely.

His name will also be entered on the barring list of those forbidden from ever working with children.