A FORMER magistrate who became “bored” in retirement, began seeking indecent images of children, arising from his long-term interest in computer technology, a court heard.
John Dutton’s “hidden dark secret”, which saw him amass more than 3,800 offending images in three years, securely storing them on the internet cloud, has led to the retired JP receiving his first custodial sentence at the age of 78.
Durham Crown Court heard that police visited his home in May 2020, and seized computer equipment, when the defendant made an admission about downloading images.
Although he made “no comment” in his initial police interview Dutton did assist police inquiries, providing passwords to his cloud storage accounts, enabling investigators to discover more stored images than they were previously able to access.
Robin Turton, prosecuting, said while the vast majority were in the lesser category of severity, there were more than 100 in each of the top two tiers for such material, and included youngsters aged as young as two being sexually abused by adults.
There was also evidence of distribution, by way of sharing four of the images, each in the lower category, to like-minded individuals online.
Dutton, of Mendip Drive, Lambton, in Washington, admitted three counts of making indecent images of children, relating to the downloading from the internet, but he also admitted one charge each of distributing indecent images and possessing extreme pornography and prohibited images of children
Richard Bennett, in mitigation, told the court: “It’s clear that once arrested, in 2020, he did everything he could to assist police officers, providing the passwords and details of accounts they were unaware of, enabling them to get access to images. ”
Mr Bennett said upon retirement, following his previously busy life, he became ‘bored’ with plenty of time on his hands.
“He had a long-term interest in computer technology and this led him to go onto online forums and seek adult pornography.
“But he began looking at more extreme material.”
Mr Bennett said in his interview with a Probation Officer preparing a pre-sentence report, Dutton explained that this led to his “descent” into his interest in the offending images.
“He was aware his activities were criminal and feels immense shame and guilt.
“He admits, at the time, he did not feel the immense pain these children were going through.
“He’s expressed a great deal of remorse and, as a consequence of his arrest, he now lives alone and is on medication for anxiety.”
Mr Bennett said the defendant “accepts he has a problem” and voluntarily went onto a course run by a charity recommended to him by the police to deal with his behavioral practices and to learn more about the actual suffering of those abused youngsters featured on the images .
He added that the defendant, of previous good character, is considered a “low risk” of causing harm to children in the probation report and he urged Judge Ray Singh to pass a non-custodial or suspended prison sentence.
Read more: Defendant claimed he did not ‘differentiate’ between indecent images featuring adults or children
The judge told Dutton, however: “You are 78 and, I accept that, prior to this offending, you lived an exemplary life.”
But Judge Singh said more recently he appears to have had, “a hidden dark secret.”
“While there’s no evidence of you having offended during your public service, it’s right that over a three-year period, from 2017 to 2020, you developed an unhealthy criminal interest in young children to the extent that you, on a number of different devices , built a catalog of thousands of images involving young children.
“A significant amount were of the most serious nature.”
He said despite the defendant’s age and previous good character, due to the severity and the number of images, plus the aggravating element of distribution, he needed to, “send out a serious message to those who share material of this nature”, by imposing an immediate sentence.
Jailing him for six months, up to half of which Dutton must spend behind bars, he also made him subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and registration as a sex offender, both for ten years.
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