A sex offender found with tens of thousands of indecent images of children is beginning a prison sentence of over four years.
Stephen Bell, 58, of Sandside Road, Mossbank, previously admitted having pornographic photos of youngsters. He intended the images to be distributed or shown to others.
Bell also confessed to taking, or permitting to be taken, indecent images of children. The offences happened between February 2011 and February last year.
Lerwick Sheriff Court heard that Bell had been “completely dedicated” to pornography, and that he was incapable of recognising that every one of the children in the images in his possession was a victim.
Procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie told the court: “I don’t think I can sit down without commenting on the fairly worrying response made by him in the social enquiry report. It’s been well understood now that every single image such has been viewed here of a child contains an image of a victim. He seems incapable of appreciating that very basic truth, and that has to be a significant concern.”
The fiscal described how he had felt compelled – for the first time in Lerwick – to seek a time bar extension to allow evidence to be examined after the offence had come to light.
He said police had executed a search warrant at Bell’s address. “But it became clear the set-up was extremely complex, and almost unique in its complexity.” He said the task of carrying out a forensic examination was “extremely challenging”.
Mr MacKenzie described how the search focused on six hard drives identified as containing most of the suspect material. A further 29 hard drives were also discovered.
The fiscal said tens of thousands of indecent images of children were found – more than 5,000 of which were classed as being the most serious, or “category A”, type. Over 7,400 images belonged in category B, while more than 100,000 were category C.
He added children of all ages had been victimised by the crime. The images were predominantly of children aged between 10 and 16.
A search at Bell’s home uncovered a place in “complete disarray”, with only two main areas seeming to be habitable. Mr MacKenzie described “towers” of hard drives, pornographic magazines and DVDs.
“This seems to be a man who is completely dedicated to pornography, and to child pornography in particular,” Mr MacKenzie added.
“He works full time but it appears that when work was finished for the day his life, almost to the exclusion of everything else, was dedicated to these horrific images.”
Defence agent Tommy Allan agreed the nature of the images were “abhorrent”. He highlighted the social enquiry report which showed Bell as a “something of a loner”.
“He worked, but the rest of his life was taken over by this obsession with this kind of pornography,” Mr Allan said. “It would be fair to say he allowed that obsession to get out of control.”
The agent said there was a difference between the view Bell had about his offending and that which society would normally expect.
“He accepts that at some point this would come to an end and he would be discovered, and he would have to face the consequences.”
Mr Allan added that Bell had had the first opportunity to discuss his problems with social workers in the preparation of reports. But Bell knew he would be going to prison.
“He knows he comes to court facing the inevitability of a custodial sentence,” he said.
Sheriff Philip Mann sent Bell to prison for 52 months – a total of four years and four months. But he will also have to serve a four month non-custodial extended sentence.
The sheriff also handed Bell a sexual offences prevention order, which will limit or monitor his use of the internet, for an indefinite period.
Bell was placed on the sex offender’s register, also indefinitely. “This is offending of the most serious kind,” the sheriff told him.
Following the sentencing the senior police officer on the case highlighted the difficult and specialist nature of the investigations.
Detective Inspector Richard Baird said: “This was an extremely complex investigation and Bell’s system has been described as one of the most intricate ever seen by the specialist computer forensic examiners who worked on the case.
“Possessing indecent images is not a victimless crime and every day children are subjected to dreadful abuse in order to create these materials which are distributed around the world.
“Police Scotland is committed to taking action against the people involved in this appalling cycle of crime and we would encourage anybody who has experienced abuse, no matter how much time has passed, to contact us or partner agencies such as their local social work team or the NSPCC.”
Anybody with concerns about the safety or wellbeing of a young person could contact police on 101, Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contactthe NSPCC, Mr Baird added.