Northern Ireland

Student guilty plea over downloading child abuse images

A student who admitted downloading and distributing images of children being sexually abused was sentenced to three years on probation at Belfast Crown Court on Friday.

Garrett Fox, 20, from the Antrim Road in Belfast pleaded guilty to 14 charges of possessing 144 indecent images of children being abused.

He also plead guilty to three further counts of distributing indecent images.

The judge imposed a three-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

The order bans Fox from seeking to get a job which would bring him into contact with children and also prevents him from having unsupervised contact with children without their guardian's permission.

Fox was also banned from owning or using any internet capable device which does not have software on it which allows police to monitor his internet activity.

Judge Philip Babington told a weeping Fox that while he accepted there was little risk of him reoffending, "one must not forget" that the children depicted in the images are the real victims.

"The advent of the internet has allowed true paedophiles to spread their evil around the globe and insnare vulnerable people such as this defendant," the judge added.

Prosecuting lawyer Gary McCrudden told the court that on a planned operation, police raided Fox's parents home and seized two laptop computers and a number of DVD's.

Mr McCrudden said officers found the images of children being abused.

He added that while most were spread among the least offensive categories of one to three, there were 23 images in categories four and five.

According to the guideline authorities, pictures in categories four and five can depict the most graphic images.

Mr McCrudden said the investigation also revealed that 17 images had been forwarded on to someone known only as "cjrhorny" but that whatever had been sent was unable to be categorised.

After he was arrested and interviewed Fox, who is currently studying at Northumbria University, made full admissions to police, claiming that some of them had been downloaded when he was about 15-years-old.

Fox also said and that he would have sent indecent images of himself "to people he claimed would have been older".

Defence lawyer Patrick Taggart claimed the offences arose from "an innocent journey of sexual discovery - his interest lay in people of his own age".

In handing down the probation term, Judge Babington said it appeared the distribution offences were more akin to the "swapping" of images with people "older and certainly much more involved in this activity than the defendant".

"It seems that this (swapping) was to people less innocent than he was, indeed very much the opposite," the judge said, adding that one doctor had opined that Fox himself "was the victim of paedophiles" on the internet.