A young Co Antrim man who had over a thousand images of child sex abuse escaped a jail term on Thursday to save him coming under the malevolent and manipulative influence of more dangerous and serious sex offenders.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland told 23-year-old Daniel George Clarke that three years of intense probation supervision and work courses would ultimately best serve and safeguard both him and society.
Clarke, from Coronation Road in Carrick, who was also put on the Sex Offenders’ Register and made subject to a five-year Sex Offenders’ Prevention Order, pleaded guilty to 23 charges of downloading the images, and one of distributing some of them in 2013.
Belfast Crown Court heard that following a police search of his home in November 2013, Clarke readily admitted looking for the images and sharing them with others on an internet chat site.
A defence lawyer said while a remorseful Clarke knew it was both wrong and illegal, he went looking for more images after they were “burnt into his brain” when he initially “stumbled” upon them on the internet. The lawyer added that given his frank admissions, his was a “somewhat exceptional case”.
Judge McFarland said that downloading images of child sex abuse was not a victimless crime, and while the youngsters were unknown to Clarke and police, they were individuals subjected to the most appalling abuse and lives of physical degradation.
“These are not just pictures, they are actual people,” he added.
Judge McFarland said it was accepted Clarke’s guilty pleas were based on genuine remorse and that there were many positive aspects to his life, notwithstanding his serious offending.
The Crown Court judge added, while on one view the custody threshold had been passed, he had to consider the impact of such a sentence, as in Clarke’s case it would be a minimal jail term of between two to three months.
Judge McFarland said this would be served in the prison’s sex offenders’ secure unit where Clarke would be exposed to the more dangerous elements of sex offending. Spending even two months in their presence and under their malevolent and manipulative influence would not result in a positive outcome either for Clarke or ultimately society.
He added that he preferred the suggested alternative contained in the pre-sentence report, advocating an intense period of supervision by probation during which time Clarke would undertake any course work they deemed necessary.
Judge McFarland said this would be a benefit both to Clarke and society.