Peter Chapman claimed he accidentally viewed an indecent image of a child on social media website Tumblr, but admitted he then went on to search for thousands more.
He was sentenced today after pleading guilty to four charges, including possessing a cartoon of a child being exploited.
Judge Janet Waddicor said: “The harm done by people who watch and download images such as these is incalculable.”
Chapman, 57, of Portland Road in Worthing, was given a 16-month suspended jail sentence at Lewes Crown Court this morning.
Thousands of images found
His crimes came to light in June 2017 when police discovered his email address was linked up to a website dealing in child pornography, the court heard.
Police said at the time of his offending he was working as a cleaner and lunchtime assistant at Chesswood Junior School in Worthing, but added none of the images found in his possession were of local children and confirmed there were no safeguarding issues in relation to local children.
Prosecutor Charmaine Wilson said in court: “Officers arrived at the defendant’s address and upon speaking to the defendant he confirmed he was the bill payer and stated that he had looked at underage girls around the age of 10.”
Various items of computer equipment were seized by police, and thousands of indecent images of children were found.
Officers found 3,593 indecent images of children on them, including six of the most serious type, Category A.
He pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing indecent images of children, as well as a charge of possessing prohibited images of children.
Image ‘popped up’ on Tumblr
David Bathurst, defending Chapman, said he was previously of ‘umblemished character’.
He told the court: “March 2015 was a terrible time for my client emotionally.
“His mother and aunt passed away. My client was feeling isolated and lonely without any real emotional support.
“During 2015 my client would hide away in this bedroom on the internet.
“He joined a website known as Tumblr. He described it as the worst decision he ever made.
“When logged into Tumblr a sexualised image of a child popped up on the screen .
“My client had no idea that the site would [have] indecent images of children.”
But he added: “His curiosity got the better of him. He clicked like.”
Thereafter however Chapman became ‘addicted’ and ‘complicit in exploitation of very vulnerable youngsters’, Mr Bathurst told the court.
He added: “At that time he wholly overlooked the effect of this type of offending on the victim.”
Mr Bathurst told the judge that Chapman felt remorse and has been engaging with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse.
‘Exploitation, humiliation and degradation’
Sentencing Chapman, Judge Waddicor said: “Some of the children were as young as 5-7 years old.
“They were subject to exploitation, humiliation, degradation which no doubt will mark them for the rest of their lives.”
She told him that the prohibited images he possessed – which included a cartoon of a child being exploited – were ‘deeply disturbing’.
She said: “You have expressed what I accept is genuine remorse, shame and probably disgust.”
Chapman was given a 16-month jail sentence, suspended for two years and made subject of a sexual harm prevention order.
He was also ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge.