An ex-Nelson Labour councillor has been spared jail for downloading “ horrific” videos of young children being sexually abused – including a film of a six-month-old baby.
Richard Smith (32) was “stoned” on cannabis and depressed at the time he viewed the vile images, all in Category A, the most serious level, Burnley Crown Court heard.
The hearing was told Smith, who was caught when his home in Waidshouse Road, Nelson, was raided, claimed he had been looking for gay porn, but came across the videos by accident and deleted them as he knew it was wrong.
He said there had been a previous incident years before when he accidentally came across child abuse images and he had reported that to the police. He told officers he used a sharing network and that was how the pictures came to be on his computer.
Smith, who worked in customer services, has now lost his job. He had earlier admitted three charges of making an indecent photo of a child, on August 29th and July 24th last year.
He was given nine months in jail, suspended for two years, with two years’ supervision and must attend the internet sexual offenders’ treatment programme.
Smith was also made subject to a five-year sexual harm prevention order, which allows police to monitor his internet use.
The defendant represented Clover Hill Ward on Pendle Council and also served as a Nelson town councillor.
He had no previous convictions.
Robert Smith (prosecuting) said, at 6-30am, police went to Smith’s home and he immediately owned up to being responsible for the images.
His computer equipment was seized, his external hard drive was sent off for examination and three videos found.
Mr Smith said one film showed a boy of about seven and another involved a teenager of 14 or 15. The prosecutor said perhaps the most graphic and horrific was the third video, which showed a baby, about six months old, being penetrated by an adult male.
You must realise these are not victimless offences, because each of the victims is a child who lives and exits somewhere and has been abused graphically and horribly so people like you can see it
The defendant claimed he had deleted the images, but, said the prosecutor, at least one video was said to have been on the computer for at least three months and had been accessed only four days before his arrest.
Robert Elias (defending) described the films as “disturbing and harrowing”.
He said Smith didn’t tell the police about the images as he did a few years ago when something similar happened, as he was stoned.
The barrister continued: “His appearance is deeply embarrassing to him. The pro-social activities have been abandoned by him completely now because of his conviction. He is very sorry. He is somebody with pro-social attitudes. He’s made a mistake, but he’s somebody who can be assisted by the probation service.”
Judge Simon Newell said Smith had a good work record, had made a positive contribution to society and had a stable family background.
Sentencing, he said aggravating features were the ages of the children involved.
The judge told the court there was something of a lacuna in the evidence as to how the images came to be in Smith’s possession, and he (the judge) and the Crown were not in a position to gainsay the defendant’s explanation about the sharing network and the images coming with others he was looking at which were not illegal.
Judge Newell continued: “But, you must realise these are not victimless offences, because each of the victims is a child who lives and exits somewhere and has been abused graphically and horribly so people like you can see it.”
Labour councillor who confessed to child abuse images offences is facing prison
Ex-colleagues have expressed ‘deep shock’ after it emerged that Labour’s Richard Smith, who represented Nelson’s Clover Hill ward on Pendle Council, had been investigated over indecent images.
Smith, 32, of Waidshouse Road, appeared before Burnley magistrates and admitted to three offences of making indecent photographs of children
Magistrates committed him on unconditional bail to appear for sentence at Burnley Crown Court on September 28.
A police spokesman said Smith was initially arrested on November 12 last year, on suspicion of downloading and viewing indecent images of under-age boys.
Smith, who also served as a Nelson town councillor and served on the borough’s licensing committee and scrutiny management team, was finally charged with the offences on July 27 and bailed to appear at court.
He had indicated last year that he intended to step down as a borough councillor but this was short-circuited in early December when he confirmed he was quitting local politics for ‘personal reasons’.
The ex-councillor, who grew up in the Clover Hill area, also served for a period as Pendle Labour Party’s ‘Young Labour’ officer.
Smith, who has worked in the holiday cottages industry and is understood not to be married, won the seat for Labour from the Liberal Democrats in 2011, with more than 50 per cent of the vote.
Ironically, In his 2010 election leaflet, he said: “I find working with younger people very rewarding and hope to help them develop various projects that will benefit both Clover Hill ward and Nelson.”
Under the sentencing powers of the crown court, often depending on the number and severity of the images, the maximum prison sentence is 10 years, on conviction.
Last night Cllr Eileen Ansar, who still represents Clover Hill, said: “I am very surprised and shocked. He was a very able and competent councillor who was very active in our local community action team.
“Everyone thought that he had stepped down very suddenly but no-one suspected anything like this.”
It is understood that Smith did not disclose the circumstances of his arrest when he tendered his resignation with Labour group leader Cllr Mohammed Iqbal later.
But Cllr Joe Cooney, Conservative group leader, said: “The Labour Party have questions to answer about how much they knew about this. The council has done a lot of work on child exploitation, and the willingness of people to come forward and report matters, and if the party in control of the council was prepared to cover this up then I would be very concerned.”