January 2009

Porn shame of Exeter church youth worker

A MET Office worker, who was involved with a church youth club, was downloading child porn on the internet at his city home, Exeter Crown Court has heard.

Jonathan Wright, 41, of Thorn Close, Whipton, admitted nine offences of making more than 1,700 indecent photographs of under-age boys.

Wright, who has since been suspended from the Met Office, was responsible for doing criminal record checks on volunteers at Whipton Chapel, and involved in youth work there, although he did not commit any offences at the church.

He was sentenced at the court to a three-year community order, with conditions that he is supervised and attends a sex offender rehabilitation programme.

Recorder Ros Collins said this was more likely to prevent him from further offending than sending him to jail, as Wright would receive only a short sentence under legal guidelines and would be back on the streets soon without any rehabilitation.

Wright moved from Bracknell when the Met Office relocated to Exeter and joined Whipton Chapel, where he worked as a volunteer.

Details of his £26,000-a- year job at the Met Office were not given, but the court was told he had been suspended and was probably going to be sacked.

Church leaders had become worried about his attitude towards young boys, from comments he made in emails and from his personal use of the Bebo internet networking site.

They banned him from working at the youth club, monitored his behaviour and offered him support to get help, but then alerted police when they discovered he had launched a Bebo page, pretending to be a teenager.

Officers discovered the images on his computer at home, ranging from level one to level four. Images are graded from level one, which is the least offensive, to level five.

Prosecutor James Taghdissian said that Wright had no previous convictions when he relocated in 2002.

He joined Whipton Chapel, with a letter of introduction from his previous church.

The chapel carried out a Criminal Records Bureau check on him, which proved negative.

He then took on a voluntary role including coordinating the chapel’s Criminal Records Bureau checks, drafted the church’s child protection policy and helped assist youth leaders there with their duties. Mr Taghdissian said: “There were no concerns, he was made very welcome and was well liked.”

But he added that Jonathan Bishop, a church leader, became concerned about Wright’s interest in under-age boys, for various reasons including comments made in emails.

Mr Bishop told other church leaders, who treated Wright sympathetically, because he was suffering from a bereavement, and encouraged him to seek help but also monitored him closely.

Once they discovered he was adding teenage boys, who were not from the church, to his Bebo account as friends, they banned him from the youth club, continued to monitor him and alerted police once he set up a webpage on the site, pretending to be a teenager.

Police arrested Wright in 2007 and discovered computer images of boys aged 12 to 15, including 1,795 at level one, 222 at level two, three at level three and 215 at level four.

Defence counsel Warren Robinson said Wright was emotionally vulnerable, had never had a sexual relationship and had been assessed as an ideal candidate for treatment to address his problems.

Recorder Collins also imposed other restrictions on Wright, including an indefinite Sex Offences Prevention Order, which bans him from any form of work or voluntary role with boys under 18, and said he must put his details on the Sex Offenders’ Register for five years.

A spokesman for the Met Office confirmed that Wright had been suspended.

He said an investigation was on-going but it was too early to say what the outcome of that might be.

Jonathan Bishop, of Whipton Chapel, told the Echo: “We have a child protection policy and as soon as concerns became known we operated within that to protect children.

“He was suspended from working with children while police investigations took place.”