May 2020

Loughborough junior football coach downloaded 18,000 indecent images of children from dark web

A judge has told youth sports coach James Smith it isnt ‘worth sending him to prison’ after he was caught with more than 18,000 indecent images of children – including 55 hours of illegal footage – on his computer equipment.

The 28-year-old sent shockwaves through the Loughborough sporting community when his interest in child pornography, obtained from the dark web, became public.

Leicester Crown Court heard that the offences solely related to material accessed online.

Smith, who coached football and basketball, was not charged in connection to any children he had worked with.

He was involved with various sporting teams and initiatives locally, under the banner of the Nova Sports Foundation, and also coached at other organised events. But his career is now in ruins.

The defenant, of Tiverton Road, Loughborough, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to three counts of possessing indecent images of children, between 2018 and January this year.

They related to 2,521 images in the most serious range, including 262 moving images of about 47 hours in duration.

There were also 1,904 category B images, of which 53 were moving images, and 14,206 images in the least serious range, category C, of which 33 were video clips.

Smith also admitted possessing 32 prohibited images.

Gary Short, prosecuting, said the matter came to light because Smith’s family were concerned for his welfare, and feared he was suicidal, when he went missing in January.

Officers went to Smith’s home and examined his laptop, hoping to ascertain where he might be, and discovered the child pornography.

Mr Short said: “It’s worrying because he’d set up a company involved in teaching football and basketball in a school environment.

“Although this offending doesn’t involve (physical) contact, the fact he had access to children was worrying, you might think.”

The defendant was arrested on his return home.

He immediately told officers: “I’m so ashamed, I’m disgusted with myself.”

Mr Short said that on two laptops and various memory sticks: “There were at least 55 hours of moving images, of which 47 hours were in category A.”

The images involved children from the age or four or five to about 12 or 13 years.

Judge Nicholas Dean QC said: “There are concerns, of course, about contact with young people but, usually, the publicity generated by cases such as these would bring complainants forward.”

The judge asked the prosecutor: “You’re not aware of any complaint being made about the defendant outside (the indecent images) that we are dealing with here?”

Mr Short confirmed there had been no complaints received from any individuals.

Judge Dean said a nine-page pre-sentence report on Smith stated: “He said he compartmentalised in his mind his interest in child pornography, from his work with young children, and it may be he was right in that assertion.”

Sentencing, Judge Dean told Smith, who appeared via a live video link from prison: “You’re a man of previous good character.

“Because of concerns over your safety the police saw your computer and found the images of children.

“It was a considerable collection of illicit images.”

The judge said there were “unusual and disturbing experiences” in the defendant’s past.

He added: “You recognise you’ve got a problem and you need help, support and guidance.

“I’ve been impressed by what I’ve read in the pre-sentence report, the references and your attitude about your offending – you expressed shame immediately on being discovered.

“You’ve been in custody since January, the equivalent of serving a seven or eight-month sentence.”

The judge said the starting point would have been a 12-month prison sentence, but with a third discount for an early guilty plea he could have expected an eight-month term.

He said: “The sentencing council guidelines are that when an individual is suitable for rehabilitation it should be considered as an alternative to a short period of imprisonment.

“There is no point or purpose in keeping you in prison.”

Smith was placed on a two-year community order with a 90-day programme requirement, plus a 30-day rehabilitation activity requirement.

He was placed on a five-year sexual harm prevention order – enabling the authorities to monitor his future use of computer devices – and he will have to enlist on a sex offender register for the same period.

The judge ordered forfeiture of the seized laptops and memory sticks.