A former Wearside school worker has been jailed for six years after admitting a string of sexual offences against children.
Counsellor Robert Fothergill, who had been employed on a temporary contract at Shiney Row Primary School, had worked at a host of schools which helped vulnerable pupils, including those who have been abused.
Unhappily, you have a darker side which is illustrated by your admission to these matters.Judge Tony Briggs
Publicly the 47-year-old was regarded highly by people with whom he worked, Judge Tony Briggs, sitting at Teesside Crown Court, said.
But the court heard his darker, private side was illustrated by his confession to seven counts of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, sexual assault of a child, distributing indecent images of children, possessing indecent images, and attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity.
Fothergill, of White Lands, Richmond, North Yorkshire, wept as the case against him was opened in court, with family members listening in the public gallery.
James Bourne-Arton, prosecuting, said Fothergill worked as a counsellor specialising in vulnerable people aged five to 18.
Police became aware of his illegal online activity after investigating a man in West Yorkshire with whom he had been communicating in a chat log.
The pair discussed abusing children and detectives traced his IP address.
When he was interviewed in February he made a string of confessions, the court heard.
He admitted using a particular website where he would watch children as young as nine perform sex acts.
Mr Bourne-Arton said Fothergill told police it was “one of the worst sites and someone should do something about it”.
Tom Mitchell, defending, told the judge: “You deal with a man who has no previous convictions who has managed in the absence of any complainant to confess to the police substantially more than could ever be proved against him.”
The defence said he was not weeping for himself, but for his “family and those he has offended against”.
He said Fothergill took medication for “restless leg syndrome” and a known side effect was to make those who took it less able to combat urges that they faced.
Nevertheless, as a counsellor he should have taken steps to stop himself, Mr Mitchell said.
Despite numerous written testimonials, Judge Briggs jailed him for six years, placed him on the Sex Offenders’ Register and made an indefinite
Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
He told the defendant: “It is plain on your public side there are very many good things to say about you.
“There is indeed an impressive collection of letters from people you have assisted and from people who obviously regard you highly.”
The judge added: “Unhappily, you have a darker side which is illustrated by your admission to these matters.”
Judge Briggs said it was right to say that Fothergill had confessed, but only after the police had begun investigating him.
Outside court, North Yorkshire Police said self-employed Fothergill worked in schools in North Yorkshire, Durham, Cleveland and Tyne and Wear.
Investigating Officer, Detective Inspector Fiona Wynne the force’s Serious Crime Team, said: “Fothergill’s admission of guilt has at least spared his victims the ordeal of going through the criminal justice system and a Crown Court trial.
“However, nothing can ever undo the harm he has caused both to the children he has directly abused or those whose pictures he has shared.
“Children’s safety is of paramount importance and they should be protected at all times from those who want to abuse them, particularly those who are in a position of trust.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure they are kept safe, from parents to professionals, and I urge anyone who suspects a child is being abused to contact the police, or if they prefer, one of the many other agencies who can help.”