February 2009

‘Grief turned me into a pervert’

David Hodgson

A MAN grieving for his stepson turned to drink and downloading pornography from the internet in the months after the tragedy, a court heard.

David Hodgson downloaded pornography, including 102 indecent images of children on his work computer, borrowed from Consett YMCA, where he was deputy chief executive.

Durham Crown Court heard that the deleted material was recovered by police examining the lap-top seized from his home during a wider investigation into internet child pornography, last June.

David Crook, prosecuting, said Hodgson admitted looking at adult pornography, although he claimed he had not sought child images on the lap-top.

But, 38-year-old Hodgson, of Consett Road, Castleside, near Consett, admitted 16 counts of making an indecent photograph of a child, as well as a further charge of possessing indecent child photographs at an earlier hearing.

The court heard that 80 of the 102 offending images were in the least serious category, but seven were in the second most serious level.

Eric Elliott, mitigating, described it as, “an exceptional case”, against a background of, “a family tragedy of monumental proportions”.

He said Hodgson’s stepson, 13-year-old Ben Stirland, choked on a pen top while doing homework and died in hospital days later, in January 2007.

Mr Elliott said Hodgson “threw himself into his work”, but found himself unable to cope with the bereavement and turned to drink and surfing the internet at home.

“It wasn’t a case of looking for sexual images of children out of lust or depravity, but browsing intermittently, primarily looking at other sites.

“It was a period of great stress and pain, but he has sought help from a therapist and psychiatrist,” said Mr Elliott.

Judge Brian Forster told Hodgson: “It’s clear from references I’ve read that you’ve dedicated your life to helping others, giving support to youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Given the “exceptional circumstances”

of the case, he said he could avoid jailing Hodgson.

Judge Forster imposed a three-year probation supervision order, on condition he attends an internet sex offender group workprogramme.

Hodgson, who lost his job after the offending came to light, was also ordered to sign on the sex offenders’ register for five years.