Durham Passport Office worker who stole photos of young girls avoids jail

A Passport Office worker with a sexual interest in children has avoided jail after he admitted stealing 30 photos of girls from applications and downloading horrific indecent images of abuse.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 2:44 pm
Updated Friday, 10th January 2020, 4:12 pm
HM Passport Office in Freeman's Reach in Durham. Image copyright Google Maps.

The mother of a 12-year-old whose photo James Close, 36, stole from the Durham Passport Office's print room told the court the anxiety he had caused, and how there had been a "massive organisational failing" at the Government-run agency.

Last January police searched the home Close shared with his elderly parents and found more than 1,000 indecent images of children - including more than 100 of the worst category - on three electronic devices, as well as extreme pornography involving bestiality.

In a locked metal drawer in the bedroom, officers found 30 passport photos, all of them of girls aged between six and 16.

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Close had taken them from work and most of the 30 had become detached from their documentation and should have been reattached or destroyed but Close, who worked at the office for 14 years, took them home.

The mother of one of the girls made an emotional victim impact statement to Durham Crown Court, saying: "The documents were sent to a government body who were tasked with keeping our documents safe.

"The fact that the employee was able to steal data more than once I feel shows a massive organisational failure.

"We entrust precious data every day to various organisations who have procedures in place to prevent this sort of situation from arising.

"This incident shows that this is not the case and I now have issues and anxiety that there is nothing in place to protect data we send in the future."

Judge Jonathan Carroll spoke to the mother in the witness box to reassure her the police had found no evidence that Close had manipulated the photos to make depraved images from them, distributed them or done anything else with them.

Shaun Dryden, prosecuting, said other parents had made victim statements expressing the same anxiety, and he said the case represented a breach of trust by an experienced employee.

Nigel Soppitt, defending, said Close had come to admit he had a sexual interest in children.

He said the defendant was socially inadequate, had never had an adult relationship, had mental and physiological issues and may have undiagnosed autism.

Mr Soppitt said Close could not provide an explanation for stealing the photos from work, saying: "They were attractive to him, he says no more than that."

The judge sentenced Close, of Shildon, County Durham, to 12 months in jail, suspended for two years, with a curfew and 30 days rehabilitation.

He must sign the sex offender register and comply with a sexual harm prevention order.

The judge said he could not send him to prison for a long enough time to get the treatment inside that he needed.

"This is an extremely troubling, unusual and in many ways a very sad case," Judge Carroll said.

"There's extremely serious criminal offending relating to children and a deeply troubling abuse of trust by an employee of a state organisation.

"That has caused profound damage to the public trust in that institution - an institution we as a society have to use, and have to have confidence in.

"Your behaviour as is clear from (the mother's victim statement) has driven a coach and horses through that public trust."

Close admitted three counts of making indecent images of children, one of possessing prohibited images of children, one of possessing extreme pornography and a theft charge at a previous hearing.

After the case, a Home Office spokesman said: "We expect the highest standards of integrity and professionalism from all staff, and will act immediately where we find evidence of misconduct.

"Any allegations of wrongdoing are thoroughly investigated and dealt with accordingly."