Church mem­ber had 7,000 child porn images

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS - BY PAUL HIG­GINS

A NORTH Antrim man heav­ily in­volved with his lo­cal church has been put on pro­ba­tion for three years af­ter he was caught with more than 7,000 in­de­cent images of chil­dren.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Des­mond Mar­ri­nan told Craig Ser­plus (60) that while his of­fences “clearly cross the cus­tody thresh­old”, given his guilty pleas, re­morse and will­ing­ness to ad­dress his be­hav­iour, he was sat­is­fied there was a “suf­fi­cient prospect of real re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion” so he im­posed pro­ba­tion and a 100 hour com­mu­nity ser­vice order.

He told Ser­plus, who stood in the dock with his head bowed through­out the judge’s sen­tenc­ing remarks, that: “I wish to make it clear to you that your crimes are ex­tremely se­ri­ous and you are for­tu­nate in­deed that the pro­ba­tion ser­vice have sug­gested this per­fectly proper, rea­son­able way for­ward as an al­ter­na­tive to cus­tody.”

At an ear­lier hear­ing, Ser­plus, from Cla­gan Park in Aghad­owey, pleaded guilty to 20 counts of mak­ing and pos­sess­ing in­de­cent images of chil­dren on var­i­ous dates be­tween June 7, 2013, and Fe­bru­ary 18 last year.

Re­count­ing the facts of the case, Judge Mar­ri­nan de­scribed how po­lice searched Ser­plus’ home, seiz­ing com­put­ers, lap­tops, mem­ory sticks and hard drives. Those items were foren­si­cally ex­am­ined and po­lice iden­ti­fied “7,415 unique files of var­i­ous kinds ... ap­prox­i­mately 15% fell into cat­e­gory A and the re­main­der a mix­ture of cat­e­gories A and B”, said the judge.

Judge Mar­ri­nan de­scribed that cat­e­gory A were considered

Pro­ba­tion: Craig Ser­plus

to be the most se­ri­ous and that, of the files un­cov­ered, many were stills images but there were also videos of chil­dren be­ing abused.

“Many of the boys de­picted were pre or early teens but, sadly, there were chil­dren younger than that, be­tween 6 and 10 years old,” he told the court.

Ar­rested and in­ter­viewed, Ser­plus, an en­gi­neer for the Hous­ing Ex­ec­u­tive be­fore he took early re­tire­ment, “was less than hon­est and forth­com­ing,” claim­ing “it was his at­trac­tion to na­tur­ism” which led him to down­load some images “and young chil­dren may have been in the back­ground”.

When the ma­te­rial he down­loaded was pointed out to Ser­plus, “he ar­gued that he was in­ter­ested in adult pornog­ra­phy, not child pornog­ra­phy” al­though when the case came to court he pleaded guilty.

Judge Mar­ri­nan said the “age and vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the chil­dren” in the images was an ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor, as was the length of time Ser­plus had pos­ses­sion of the images.

In mit­i­ga­tion, the judge con­tin­ued, was Ser­plus’s guilty plea and re­morse, as well as tes­ti­mo­ni­als from his min­is­ter and the clerk of ses­sion at Aghad­owey Pres­by­te­rian Church which out- lined that he had vol­un­teered in var­i­ous com­mit­tees over the last 17 years.

Judge Mar­ri­nan re­vealed the church min­ster had been coun­selling Ser­plus and that the ac­cused also “had the sup­port of his fam­ily and close friends and spir­i­tual com­mu­nity”.

He told the court it was clear from the pro­ba­tion re­port and a psy­chol­o­gist’s re­port that Ser­plus had the “be­lated re­al­i­sa­tion” that his of­fend­ing be­hav­iour was not vic­tim­less and that harm was caused to chil­dren in the cre­ation of the in­de­cent images.

As well as the pro­ba­tion and com­mu­nity ser­vice or­ders, the judge or­dered Ser­plus to sign the po­lice sex of­fend­ers regis­ter for five years.

He also im­posed a 14-con­di­tion Sex­ual Of­fences Pre­ven­tion Order on Ser­plus, also set to last five years.

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