A PERVERT who led an international child sex ring from his North-East home was last night facing jail.

Residents of Shildon, County Durham, have spoken of their disgust after learning that the prominent pro-paedophilia campaigner was living in their midst.

Thomas O'Carroll led a worldwide campaign to legalise child sex from his end-terrace house.

Last night, he was behind bars, facing a possible ten years in jail after admitting three counts of distributing indecent photographs of children between January 1, 1994, and July 4 last year.

The 60-year-old author and his accomplice, millionaire Michael Studdert, a former priest from Surrey, were arrested in January after a police investigation involving up to 100 officers.

London's Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court heard yesterday that more than 20 years ago, O'Carroll founded the Paedophile Information Exchange (Pie), which was described as "sick" and "a force for evil which attracted dirty-minded predators".

After Pie was disbanded, O'Carroll set up the International Paedophile Child Emancipation group at his home in Market Place, Shildon.

Members campaigned for the right to have sex with children.

An undercover officer infiltrated the group and the pair were arrested after O'Carroll passed him paedophile material.

An investigation uncovered more than 50,000 images in a secret vault at Studdert's luxury home - believed to be one of the largest collections ever found.

Peter Zinner, prosecuting, said it was the Crown's case that both men represented a danger to children.

He said: "O'Carroll is known and there are old convictions from 15 years ago."

In August 2002, O'Carroll, a former university press officer and teacher, was jailed for nine months for smuggling indecent pictures of naked children from Qatar. But after a hearing at the Court of Appeal, the prison sentence was overturned.

In 1981, O'Carroll was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for conspiracy to corrupt public morals after he published Pie's worldwide contact list to try to encourage sexual contact with children.

When he was arrested in January, Shildon residents were shocked to learn of O'Carroll's sordid past. Last night, they spoke of their relief that he was behind bars.

Jim Brass, 57, whose mother-in-law lived next door to O'Carroll, said: "He was the apex of the pervert triangle, he's someone who has encouraged others to behave like him and people like that cannot be allowed to live normal lives. I'm pleased he is facing ten years in prison, but I don't think there is a stretch long enough for someone like that. He's not going to change but, at least for now, he is away from children.

"It was awful when we found out he was in Shildon and there was lots of trouble at the house. People were angry and his windows were put out every day."

Hairdresser Thelma Cook, 56, said: "You know people like that exist, but to know a house in Shildon, which so many school kids walk past every day, was occupied by one and he was running that group is terrifying.

"No one expects it to go on near them, but it has made everyone more wary. What worried people was that he felt no guilt and thought his views were acceptable."

O'Carroll tried to join Bishop Auckland Chess Club while he lived in the North-East.

He was thrown out after members were alerted to his past when he was recognised at a competition.

Studdert, who pleaded guilty to 20 counts of making indecent images of a child, one charge of distributing indecent images of a child and one of possessing an indecent image, was described as O'Carroll's lieutenant.

The 67-year-old former priest and teacher, also had a home in Poland, where he spent up to half the year.

He wrote obscene novels about having sex with boys and distributed them around the country.

Sentencing was adjourned until December 15 for the preparation of pre-sentence reports.