Langham: conviction brought me close to suicide

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Chris Langham began his public fightback yesterday with a candid interview in which he revealed that his arrest and conviction for downloading child pornography pictures had brought him close to suicide.

In his first television interview since leaving prison, Mr Langham said it was only a phone call from a depressed friend who needed support that had saved him by interrupting his own attempt at suicide.

The actor and scriptwriter was given a 10-month jail sentence in September after a jury convicted him on 15 counts of downloading child pornography. He was freed last week after the Court of Appeal cut his sentence to six months.

In the interview with Sky News broadcast yesterday, Mr Langham, 58, claimed a friend from Alcoholics Anonymous called him while he was rummaging through his own home to find a hosepipe to attach to the exhaust pipe of his car. He revealed he was on the verge of committing suicide. "I started telling him why I thought it would be a bad idea and I heard myself talk myself out of it," Mr Langham said.

The former star of the BBC political comedy The Thick Of It did admit that downloading the images found on his hard drive was "completely wrong" but repeated the line of defence he used during his trial – that the images were solely intended for research purposes and not sexual gratification. "I think one of the difficulties I've found going through this," he added, "is that there's an assumption made that if you've looked at images like this, you must have looked at them because you have a sexual interest in children."

Campaigners angrily rejected any suggestion that downloading child pornography could be justified. Diana Sutton, the NSPCC's head of policy and public affairs, said: "We must never forget that Chris Langham committed a very serious offence. Behind most images is an abused child and these children will suffer for many years knowing that other offenders will pore over images of their abuse. The number of pictures on the internet showing children being sexually abused is growing at a phenomenal rate.

"Anyone viewing these images fuels demand so more children get abused in the real world."

During his trial, Mr Langham claimed that the pictures – some of which were classified by police as being in the worst category of child porn images – formed part of the research he was doing into a comedy paedophile character that he was developing.

The comedy star, who revealed during his trial that he had been abused as a child, tried to distance himself from any suggestion that he was himself a paedophile, saying the number of images he downloaded remained small in comparison with those seeking gratification from illegal child pornography.

"People who have a sick interest in this kind of stuff often routinely have hundreds of thousands of images on their computer," he said. "I had 15, only four of which I've ever seen and, of the four that I saw, I only saw the first few seconds of them because I couldn't bear it.

"I found them too upsetting and distasteful and disturbing. I have never registered with a site, and I've never been a member of a paedophile ring and I've never communicated with anyone with an interest in that sort of thing."

The actor described his newly gained freedom as "wonderful" but admitted life in prison was "vile".

"It is absolutely horrible being in prison," he said. "I know I've always carried round the idea that, well, nowadays it's all very cushy and they all play table tennis all day. But it really is vile. It's a horrible place and I hope I never go back."

Mr Langham, who said his legal fight had left him penniless, will remain on the sex offenders register for 10 years. He said he would take time out before deciding his future but said a number of people had already expressed an interest in working with him.