January 2021

Man with 5,000-plus child abuse images spared jail after judge hears he’s at ‘risk of suicide’

A man found in possession of more than 5,000 child abuse images has been spared jail after a judge heard he was at ‘risk of suicide’.

Police discovered the sickening footage on devices belonging to Shaun Hardcastle, 32, after raiding his home in Wigan.

Almost 2,000 of the images fell into category A – said to be the worst kind.

At Bolton Crown Court on Wednesday a judge allowed him to walk free after hearing there was ‘a very real risk of suicide’ if he were jailed.

Prosecutor Sara Haque told the court that police had carried out a warrant at Hardcastle’s home in Spencer Road West on March 20, 2019.

Officers acted after receiving information that a device was accessing indecent images of children at the property.

As police spoke to his father, Hardcastle admitted that he knew the reason for police attending the address.

A computer tower and a hard drive were then seized from Hardcastle’s bedroom.

More than 900 indecent images, many of which were inaccessible, were found during a search of the computer tower, which Hardcastle had built himself.

Internet searches for ‘pre-teen hardcore’ pornography were also uncovered.

Meanwhile, a search of his hard drive revealed more than 4,000 images, 1,499 of which fell into category A.

In total, 5,287 images were found across the two devices.

The court heard that the footage involved children ranging in age from 3 to 15, although the majority were between the ages of four and eight.

Some of the footage showed youngsters in ‘discernible pain and distress’ and one image showed a young child ‘bound’.

When asked about the searches, Hardcastle told police he could not remember making them.

After being arrested, he initially told police he had looked at images of children as ‘a one-off’ while accessing adult pornography.

However, when interviewed again in August of last year, he admitted otherwise and said only he could have downloaded the images to the devices.

Handing him a 10-month suspended prison sentence, Judge Graeme Smith bemoaned an ‘epidemic of child pornography’ in society.

He said he believed Hardcastle had shown ‘remorse’ over his offending, but added: “Those are real children somewhere in the world, suffering real sexual abuse and violence, which will no doubt mar them for the rest of their life.

“There is only a trade in this because there are people willing to consume it.”

Hardcastle was also ordered to attend a sexual offending treatment programme, 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days, and to carry out 60 hours of unpaid work.