A Cumbrian vicar has been given a suspended prison sentence after being caught with child abuse images on his computer.
Peter Benson was found with 38 indecent images of children – mostly boys aged between nine and 12 – when members of Cumbria police’s public protection unit raided his vicarage in Little Broughton, near Cockermouth, in March.
But, Carlisle Crown Court heard today, it was impossible to know the real number of photographsand videos the 50-year-old cleric had viewed, since he had installed special erasing software which deleted from his PC’s memory most of the details of the porn sites he visited.
Benson – who resigned from his job as vicar of Brigham, Great Broughton, and Broughton Moor after his arrest – pleaded guilty to 12 charges of downloading pornographic computer images of children.
Eight of the images were classed as level four – the second most serious category.
Another image was level five, the most depraved category of child porn image dealt with by the courts.
Benson was given a nine month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered to register as a sex offender for ten years.
He was also banned from working or having unsupervised contact with children.
Prosecutor Alan Lovett told the court that Benson had refused to answer any questions when interviewed by the police.
But he later told Church superiors that he had been looking at child porn pictures even before he arrived in Cumbria in 2008.
He also admitted he had to make deliberate efforts not to become interested in children when he saw them out in the community, Mr Lovett said.
Defence barrister Kim Whittlestone said Benson had done “many good things in society” in his nearly 30 years as a priest.
“His many references speak very highly of him and speak of his propriety in his dealings with adults and children alike,” she said.
He was keen to continue working in the community, she said.
“He is still keen to do good within society, but he is obviously aware that he is going to be subject to very stringent conditions,” she said.
Ms Whittlestone said Benson’s wife – who was sitting in the court’s public gallery – would be standing by him, even though she and her family had been “devastated” by what he had done.
Benson was now bankrupt and homeless and the family, including his teenaged daughter and his grown-up stepsons, were living in accommodation provided by social services.
Passing sentence, Judge Peter Hughes QC told Benson the consequences of what he had done were incalculable” to his family.
He said: “You held a position in the local community which meant that people looked up to you for leadership, for guidance and for support. You let them down. You also let down your wife, who trusted in you, your child and your stepchildren.”
After today’s hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Banks, of the unit, said: “What this case highlights is that no individual is above the law, it doesn’t matter who you are.
“If you choose to download or make images of children being abused or access websites which contain illegal child abuse images we will catch you and you will be brought to justice.
“The protection of children is an absolute priority for Cumbria Constabulary and we thoroughly investigate every incident reported to us.”