May 1999

Ex-BBC man put child abuse images on to the Internet

An award-winning children’s author and television director who used to live in Staffordshire was yesterday convicted of distributing “grotesque and incestuous pictures” of children on the Internet. 

Former BBC TV Assistant Director Ian Strachan (60) was sentenced to four-months in prison suspended for two years, and will be placed on the Paedophile Register for the next five years. He was also ordered to pay costs of pounds 1,250.

The court heard how Strachan, of Knutsford, Cheshire, downloaded pictures of under-age girls on to his home computer and then “uploaded” the images on to another site. His claim that they were for research on a book on child abuse was branded as “humbug” by the judge. 

He had also forfeited his marriage and his livelihood, and is now a “broken man,” Shrewsbury Crown Court was told. 

Strachan, formerly of Fairoak, Eccleshall, Staffs, who directed BBC TV’s Z-Cars and a version of David Copperfield, and who has been a freelance writer for nine years, admitted four counts of distributing indecent pictures of under-age children on December 31 of 1997. 

Judge Michael Mander told him: “I have had a distasteful experience of having to look at very hardcore pornography today. 

“The idea that you were not involved in it for sexual gratification is something I refuse to accept. 

“Nobody would have done that for any other reason. To that extent you are a humbug. 

“I am dealing with four instances of comparatively mild pornography of pre-pubescent girls who are naked or substantially naked. 

“No sexual act is being committed. One might understand that you download the images but that is no excuse to upload images back on to the Internet. It is disgraceful that people like you are interested in this. In the past you have done a very great deal for children.” 

Earlier the court heard how in December 1997 police were monitoring Internet sites for possible paedophile activity. 

On December 8, 1997, officers noticed 35 postings had taken place under the fictional name of magpie.nest.com. They downloaded the pictures and tracked down the user as Strachan, who was arrested on January 16, 1998. 

A search of his house uncovered books, discs and pictures of over 200 images of children, the court heard. Prosecuting Mr Paul Glenn said: “The defendant accepted he had had access to the Internet and these newsgroups, which both boasted a lack of censorship. 

“He had a wide range of material ranging from the sublime to grotesque and incestuous. But he said the images that he had passed on were wholly innocent, saying they were something you would find in a normal photo album. 

“He said he had sent them as requested by others or they would be appreciated by others. He claims his motivation was for research.” 

But the prosecutor said he also sent messages such as: “This is my first posting to your group. I really like what you have here. My collection is quite large. Maybe you could post me a wish-list and I am happy to go through my collection and post any you might not have.” 

Defending, Mr Paul Bogan told the court that father-of-two Strachan, who has written 35 young people’s books, had lost his marriage and livelihood because of his actions. 

He said: “Strachan did not originate the material on the newsgroups. Certainly there were no forms of sexual activity. He has spoken to his literary agents about many ideas for new books and a book on child abuse was one of them. 

“What ended up as a criminal offence started out as genuine research. He has, in effect, lost everything as a result of this offence. He is someone who is recognised as having a high literary calibre. 

“In 1981 he won the Young Observer Teenage Fiction Writers Award and was the runner-up in 1989 and 1983 for the Young Person’s Whitbread Writers Award. In short he is now a broken man.” 

After the hearing Strachan said he may never write again. He said: “I was not thinking straight during my research. When you do reseach you talk to a lot of people involved in the same thing and that’s all I was doing. 

“I wanted to write a book about child abuse and I was looking at the subject in many different ways. I was aiming to write two books a month and I was behind my schedule. I did not think that what I was doing was illegal.”