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Paedophile Christopher Stead, of The Poplars, Gravesend, avoids jail

A pervert who downloaded more than 400,000 images and films of children being sexually abused when he was out of work and depressed has walked free from court.

Videos included a young girl crying during her ordeal and a baby “possibly struggling” while being sexually assaulted.

But instead of sending Network Rail employee Christopher Stead to jail, a judge decided a suspended sentence with “strict conditions” could be imposed.

Grant West hacked the websites of 17 big firms
Grant West hacked the websites of 17 big firms

Maidstone Crown Court heard the 30-year-old had not told his employer about the offences and was on annual leave when he appeared in court last Thursday.

Police went to his home in The Poplars in Gravesend after receiving information that an indecent video of a child had been uploaded to the internet.

Prosecutor Robert De Banzie said university-educated Stead initially denied knowing anything about the video.

His laptop computer and tablet were seized and a “very, very large amount” of images were discovered – about 422,000, including 14,000 videos.

“What he needs is professional assistance, someone he can talk to and be given some counselling in a coping strategy.” — Eve George, defending

Mr De Banzie said Stead faced three “specimen” charges involving 3,500 images and clips of all levels of seriousness and one of possessing extreme images of adults having sex with animals.

After his arrest, Stead, who admitted the offences, said he had used a chatroom where links led to images and videos. Asked what images he looked at, he replied: “All sorts.”

Judge Martin Joy sentenced Stead to 12 months suspended for two years. He will have to attend a sex offenders’ programme and complete 150 hours unpaid work. He will be under a tagged curfew for four months from 8pm to 5.30am. His name will appear on the sex offenders’ register and he will be barred from working with children and vulnerable adults.

Eve George, defending, said Stead, who earns £23,000 a year, had worked for most of his life but when unemployed he sank into self-loathing.

She said: “His life gets better when he has a job. When in full-time employment, he didn’t have the need to engage in this sort of activity.”

He gave up his job as a project manager with Network Rail in 2012 because it was too stressful.

He obtained temporary employment but suffered a collapsed lung in 2014 and was again unemployed. He went back to work at Network Rail in April last year.

“He knows he has a problem,” said Miss George. “What he needs is professional assistance, someone he can talk to and be given some counselling in a coping strategy.”

A spokesman for the children's charity the NSPCC said: "Real children suffer horrific sexual abuse for these appalling images to be produced and viewing them fuels the market for their creation.

"It is vital that Stead completes the treatment imposed as part of his sentence to reduce any risk of him reoffending.

"But the war on online abuse images has only just begun. The NSPCC is calling for more action from government, law enforcement and internet providers to prevent this sickening material being published and circulated."

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