A former aide to Prime Minister David Cameron has walked free from court after being convicted of downloading pictures of scantily-clad girls as young as 10 in sexual poses.
Patrick Rock, who turned 65 on Wednesday, faced 20 charges of making an indecent photograph of a child.
Rock, who had been involved in drawing up government policy on internet porn filters prior to his arrest, had claimed the 20 images he downloaded on to his iPad over three days in August 2013 were not indecent.
But the jury in his trial at Southwark Crown Court in London took more than eight hours to convict him by majority verdict of five counts.
He was acquitted of three similar charges, while jurors were unable to agree on the 12 remaining counts and were discharged, meaning the charges will lie on file.
The court heard that the youngest of the girls in the pictures was aged just 10 years and four months when he downloaded the image – meaning she would have been younger when it was taken.
While none of the girls were naked, jurors were told they were in “sexualised” poses in skimpy clothing, including swimwear and bras.
Judge Alistair McCreath sentenced Rock, wearing a black suit, off-white shirt and red spotted tie, to a two-year conditional discharge on each count, to run concurrently.
The judge said: “I have not lost sight of the obvious reality that right-thinking people will quite properly consider that those who did what you did should be punished for it.
“You should be. And you have been.
“The punishment for you is the loss of your reputation and your very public humiliation.
“It is a punishment which you brought on yourself, but is nonetheless a very real one. And it is one that is utterly merited.”
Rock, who resigned his Downing Street post in February 2014, had been an influential figure behind the scenes in the Conservative Party for decades, and made three unsuccessful bids to become an MP. He is reported to have been in line for a peerage before the offences came to light.
In the 1970s, he was credited with coining the Tory slogan ‘Cows moo, dogs bark, Labour puts up taxes’.
He was drafted in by Mr Cameron – a fellow advisor to former home secretary Michael Howard in the 1990s – to beef up the Number 10 policy unit in 2011, taking the title of deputy director.
On Wednesday, the court heard Rock had downloaded the images on an iPad in a golf club while on a trip to the US following the death of his mother.
Upon finding out the US authorities were interested in searching his iPad, Rock immediately told the Prime Minister’s private secretary, his barrister Sasha Wass QC said.
He was reported to the National Crime Agency, who arrested him and searched another iPad, his laptop and phone but found no other images.
Police in the US did not prosecute Rock because they had decided there was no “child pornography”, Ms Wass added.
On Thursday, Judge McCreath added his sentence did not amount to “any sort of excusing of, conformation of or trivialising if this sort of offending”.
The Recorder of Westminster said: “These were all sexualised images of children which were, the jury found, indecent.
“They represent the sexual exploitation of five young girls.
“Whilst it is true that the photographs were taken by others, you and others like you who accessed and looked at these images were complicit in that exploitation.”
But he said custody was “not appropriate” for the offences Rock, of Fulham, south-west London, had committed.
The former aide had voluntarily attended sessions by UK charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and had “engaged actively”.
The judge accepted Rock had been in a “state of unusual emotional turmoil” at the time he downloaded the five photos between August 11 and 14 2013.
He said the case was the first he had come across where the children photographed were not naked.
But he added: “There is no question about whether they were indecent images; the verdicts of the jury have established that.
“They did not, however, involve the display of naked genitalia or other intimate parts of the body.
“They numbered in total five images. I hope that you will note carefully that the word ‘only’ has not featured in that last sentence.”
Rock, who was warned by the judge that prison would be “inevitable” if he were to reoffend within two years, was also ordered to pay £12,500 in court costs.
He must register as a sex offender for the duration of the two years and was also banned, under a sexual harm prevention order, from using a device with the internet unless it can retain his browsing history and he surrenders it for inspection by police on request over the same period.
Downing Street refused to comment.
Reacting to his sentence, an NSPCC spokesman said: “It’s worrying and deeply disappointing that someone who worked at the heart of government on plans to protect children from online pornography has been found guilty of possessing indecent images.
“This type of crime harms many children and someone in Rock’s privileged position should clearly understand this and be ashamed of his actions.”