Vicar guilty of downloading child porn images

A married clergyman was ordered to register as a sex offender today after being convicted of repeatedly viewing pornographic images of children on the internet.





The Rev Dominic Stone will be sentenced in December after a jury at Stafford Crown Court found him guilty of 16 specimen charges of making indecent photographs of children.



Jurors took around three-and-a-half hours to unanimously convict the 47-year-old father, whose computer was found to contain around 600 illegal pictures of children.



Granting Stone unconditional bail and adjourning the case for Probation Service reports, Judge Mark Eades gave no indication of the ultimate sentence that the vicar will receive.



Stone, of Moisty Lane, Marchington, Staffordshire, was suspended in January 2009 from his post as team vicar for the Church of England parishes of Marchington, Marchington Woodlands, Kingstone and Leigh.



He told that court someone else may have used his computer to access the images on January 7 and 8, 2009, while he was not at the vicarage.



But prosecutor Michelle Heeley said Stone, whose wife was at work, was the only person with access to the computer and evidence showed he used it for "legitimate purposes" at around the time the images of children were downloaded.



Ms Heeley told jurors: "Whoever was looking at these (images) didn't just accidentally stumble across them - they saw the image and they looked at it again.



"There was nobody else at the vicarage at that time that could have physically accessed that computer."



In police interviews, the court heard, the vicar suggested someone else may have had a key for the vicarage or that the computer may have been infected by a virus.







Following the guilty verdicts, Gavin Drake, director of communications for the Bishop and Diocese of Lichfield, said: "The downloading and viewing of indecent images of children is a very serious offence which not only depicts, but also feeds, the actual physical abuse of innocent children.



"The protection of children is a top priority for the Lichfield Diocese and the Church of England as a whole; and after being informed of the police investigation in January 2009 Dominic Stone was removed from duties and then suspended.



"Following today's conviction the Bishop of Lichfield will follow the procedures laid down in law and await the sentence before considering the removal of Dominic Stone from his current position and prohibition of serving as a priest."



During his trial, Stone, a former landscape designer, admitted viewing adult pornography and suggested other people connected to his parishes, including a contractor, may have accessed the images of children.



But the jury rejected Stone's claims after hearing that whoever had viewed the indecent images had also searched the internet for details of children's activities linked to the Epiphany and sent an email to a parishioner.



Speaking outside court, Mr Drake added: "The Diocese of Lichfield would like to make clear that it expects all clergy to cooperate fully with police investigations into child abuse so that justice can be delivered to the victims of this appalling crime.



"The parishes of Marchington, Marchington Woodlands, Kingstone and Leigh have been without their team vicar for some 21 months during the investigation and the lengthy legal process leading to today's conviction.



"The clergy, lay leadership team and parishioners of the Uttoxeter area team ministry should be congratulated for the way they have handled the additional workload and difficulties during this time.



"We continue to pray for them, for the police and all those who work in the criminal justice system and particularly for both child and adult victims of sexual abuse in all its forms."