A leading churchman has avoided jail after he was caught with child pornography of the most serious level on his home computer.

Highly respected Jehovah’s Witness Ian Ross, from Billingham, had perverted images of girls as young as three. The 65-year-old pleaded guilty to making indecent images of children between 9 May 2013 and 11 May last year. The judge said that Ross’s behaviour had shocked his religious community and had led to him being excluded.

No details of his church position were made public when he was also given a suspended jail sentence at Teesside Crown Court yesterday .

‘You stand in some disgrace’

Judge Stephen Ashurst told him: “You are 65, you have no previous convictions, and to the outside world you appeared to be a respectable man. You held positions of some authority in the community, particularly your religious community. You now stand in the crown court in some disgrace because of what you believed was your private interest and has now put you in the public glare.”

The judge remarked that Ross had been on police and court bail for 18 months and that the burden had been hanging over him for quite some time.

Excluded from community

Judge Ashurst added: “First of all is the personal impact on you, secondly the impact on your family and those close to you who are shocked by your behaviour, of a man who has been a leading player in his community who has been accessing this material, and you have been excluded from that community.”

The judge said that it was important that the court does not lose sight of the victims of that type of offence. He said that Ross, by accessing it, was fuelling the child pornography trade.

He said the was concerned to read some of the reasons put forward by Ross for accessing some of the material, which “did not really stack up”. He said that Ross had owned up to his feelings and he had undertaken work to start rehabilitation.

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