June 2016

Ex-soldier in court over child sex abuse images

A former soldier denied knowing anything about the child sex abuse on computer discs the police discovered at his Rugby home, claiming he had found them in a bag of women’s clothes.

But an examination of the discs proved that they had been downloaded from the internet with Stephen Bell’s user name.

Bell, 59, of Alfred Street, Rugby, at the time, pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to three charges of making indecent images of children by downloading them onto his laptop.

He denied ten charges of possessing the indecent images on the computer discs – but later changed his pleas to guilty.

Bell, now of Princes Street, Rugby, was given a three-year community order and ordered to attend a sex offenders’ group work programme and to register as a sex offender for five years.

Prosecutor David Jackson said that in September last year the police turned up at the house in Alfred Street in the early hours of the morning with a search warrant.

The door was answered by Bell, who was arrested, and the officers searched an upstairs room he used as an office.

They seized his laptop computer, which was found in the wardrobe, and three discs from a shelf, together with a fourth disc from the boot of his car.

At first Bell denied having any indecent images, but accepted the laptop was his and that he had the password to it.

And when the laptop was examined there was a category A image, the most serious category and one category B image.

There were also 317 category C images, defined as being indecent but not involving sexual activity.

On the computer discs were a further five category A images, 13 category B images and a total of 627 category C images, said Mr Jackson.

Bell then accepted he had used the laptop to access indecent images of children, but continued to deny responsibility for those on the discs.

“So far as the discs were concerned, he said he had found them together with a bag of women’s clothes in a layby, and although he kept them, he had not looked at them.”

But Mr Jackson said a further examination of the discs by a police hi-tech expert showed the images had been obtained using Bell’s user name.

“When that was made known to him, he’s had a change of heart,” added Mr Jackson.

Kevin Saunders, defending, said: “He does not now seek to dilute the prosecution case.”

Of Bell, he said: “He is of hitherto good character and has worked hard and committed his time to public service, spending 30 years in Her Majesty’s forces.”

Mr Saunders explained that Bell had served for nine years in the regular Army, followed by 14 years in the Territorials before signing on for a further term in the regular Army – and had served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.

“He has lost his good character now. He has suffered a tremendous fall from grace.

“This defendant is, to a degree, socially marginalised. His only real ally was his partner. But, by reason of his conduct, that relationship is no more. She has left him.”

And Mr Saunders added: “He is assessed as being of a very low risk of re-offending, and would benefit from intervention.”

Sentencing Bell, Recorder Michael Burrows QC told him: “There are some aggravating features, one being the ages of the children, as young as seven, and that you obtained them over a long period and retained some of those images.

“But there is also mitigation in your case. You have no previous convictions and you pleaded guilty, albeit not at the first opportunity to some of the offences, and I also take into account your service to your country.

“You could not complain if I imposed a custodial sentence, but I’m concerned to maximise the protection of the public – and that is best achieved by a long community order with the maximum period of supervision.”