Jan 2009

Bungling council used paedophile dubbed ‘The Fat Controller’ to promote Thomas The Tank Engine ride


A convicted paedophile jailed for a string of sexual offences against boys has appeared in a council’s tourist brochure promoting a child’s attraction.

Eighteen-stone David Harper – dubbed ‘The Fat Controller’ – is pictured as the iconic station boss on a Thomas The Tank Engine theme ride under the headline ‘Fun In The Forest’.

The move has sparked outrage after Harper featured in 50,000 tourist brochures distributed in the first week of January which promoted the popular children’s rail attraction.

Harper, 66, was exposed as a paedophile in 2007 and jailed for eight years after sexually abusing two boys of ten and 12 and hoarding 26,000 child porn images on his computer.

One of his victims, a train enthusiast, was abused after meeting him at the Dean Forest Railway in Lydney, Gloucestershire.

The Forest of Dean District Council said it will not be recalling the brochures – because it would be too expensive.

More than 50,000 copies of the magazine have been sent to tourist offices across the country at a cost of £25,000.

Steve Kendall, the council’s manager for economic development and tourism, said recalling the brochures was not a viable option.

‘It was a mistake and we hold our hands up, he said. ‘As soon as we realised we ordered all of the images to be destroyed and stopped sending out any further brochures.

‘In terms of a recall, we discussed it but it is horrendously expensive and will have huge implications for our tourist trade for the coming year.’

Harper was a train enthusiast who helped out at the Dean Forest Railway, which holds five Thomas The Tank Engine events a year.

The twice-divorced father-of-five posed with unsuspecting children at dozens of Thomas The Tank Engine events.

But he was exposed as a paedophile in 2007 after taking his computer to a shop in Gloucester to be repaired.

Staff there found 26,000 child porn images, including pictures of Harper sexually abusing two boys of 10 and 12.

Harper, of Monmouth, South Wales, admitted gross indecency with each of the two boys, 11 offences of making indecent images of children and one of distributing an indecent image at Gloucester Crown Court in November 2007.

Jailing him for eight years, Judge Jamie Tabor QC described the 26,176 images as ‘frankly horrendous’ and added: ‘Your depravity knew no bounds. You have sunk as low as a man can sink.’

The picture of him dressed as the Fat Controller was one of several given to a contractor who produced the brochure.

Mr Kendall said the photo was an old file picture which had been used over the last few years to promote the attraction and was not checked properly.

‘We in no way condone what that individual did but it is important to note that he was not captioned or named in the picture and it is the character of the Fat Controller not the individual which is promoting the attraction,’ Mr Kendall said.

‘The booklet is intended to attract people from outside the area, so it is unlikely that those not living here will be aware of this man’s background. But we appreciate there are families who will be upset.’

Dan Norris, Labour MP for North-East Somerset, a former child protection officer, criticised the council for causing unnecessary distress.

Mr Norris said the move was both distasteful and irresponsible.

‘Knowing that this man had harmed children in the past, they should have taken every step possible to ensure this picture was not used,’ he said.

‘The council is obliged to respect the fact this has happened and has caused distress to children and their families.

‘They are also obliged to withdraw the publication even though money will be lost.

‘There are some things more important than money and this is certainly one of them.’