Judge praises family for standing by man caught with almost 900 indecent pictures of children.
Andrew Thirlwell, 47, was told others would have simply washed their hands of him :: The ex-serviceman was found with almost 900 child abuse images
A judge has praised a family for standing by a man caught with almost 900 child abuse images downloaded from the internet.
Andrew Thirlwell, 47, was told his shocked family’s support would make his suspended prison sentence more likely to work as he grappled with his deviant behaviour.
Judge Stephen Ashurst told the ex-serviceman: “The support of your wife and your children for you should really be commended.
“There are others who would simply wipe their hands of a man in these circumstances.”
Intelligence reports led to two other people being arrested but released with no action as Thirlwell was brought to justice last May.
One innocent man had his phone, laptop and other devices seized, with nothing found, because of Thirlwell’s illegal activities.
Officers found 879 indecent pictures and videos of children – including 163 at the most serious level in law – on a hard drive and computer tower seized at Thirlwell’s home.
He was “visibly upset” by his actions in a frank police interview confession, Teesside Crown Court heard yesterday.
Prosecutor Rachel Masters said he apologised for the victims, admitting he had downloaded the images for five years.
The former Redcar and Cleveland Council worker said he was aroused by them but never distributed them.
Thirlwell, of Wincanton Road, Redcar, admitted three offences of making indecent images of children.
Robin Turton, defending, said Thirlwell had been a responsible, law-abiding citizen who struggled to understand how his loneliness led to an interest in child pornography.
He said Thirlwell sought help and tried to rebuild his life, supported by his wife and adult children.
“They had a family meeting after he was arrested, after he’d admitted what he’d done,” he told the court.
“They remain supportive of him. They want him, as he does, to get help and treatment and to understand why he’s done what he’s done.
“He wants the help and treatment that might correct this dysfunctional behaviour. People who know, love and trust him best take the view that this is not a lost soul.
“He’s lost his job. He suffered the disgrace, shame and acute embarrassment of having to own up to what he has done. That has been a considerable punishment.”
Judge Ashurst told Thirlwell: “You are a man who has owned up to what you were doing in private.
“You were doing it under the noses of your family, who of course were very shocked when they discovered the truth.
“The images you accessed involved real children, as you well know.”
He said Thirlwell witnessed traumatic events in the Army, did not distribute or share images and profoundly regretted others falling under suspicion for his behaviour.
He said there was “no prospect” of Thirlwell undergoing a sex offender treatment programme in a short prison sentence.
He referred to the Sentencing Council’s view that such a programme was a proper alternative to a short or moderate jail term if there was a prospect of rehabilitation.
Thirlwell was given a one-year prison sentence suspended for two years with programme and rehabilitation activity requirements.
He was given a sexual harm prevention order governing his internet use and will be on the sex offenders’ register, both for 10 years.