A SHAMED former college vice-principal, whose job involving safeguarding students, received a suspended prison sentence yesterday for downloading child pornography.

Married father-of-two Chris Birkhead earlier admitted 20 charges of making indecent images on his home computer, involving 360 images. Fifty were level four images; the most serious grading is level five.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard how Birkhead, 52, from Capstone Road, Charminster, Bournemouth had been vice-principal of Weymouth College when the offences came to light.

Before taking up the role, which included being the senior designated officer for safeguarding students who had been abused or bullied, Birkhead was employed at Bournemouth and Poole College for seven years.

Prosecutor Stuart Ellacott said police had executed a search warrant at Birkhead’s former home in Belle Vue Road, Southbourne, on June 9 last year.

His laptop was seized and Birkhead admitted accessing indecent images of children.

Mr Ellacott added: “He said he had been on various child protection courses and had become curious – that led him to look at such websites over a few months.

“He said the images were of children between eight and nine. He had accessed them at home, without his family’s knowledge, viewed them and then deleted them. He knew it was a criminal offence and the only explanation he gave was ‘because it was risky’. He denied any sexual gratification or being a risk to children.”

In Birkhead’s defence, Robert Grey said he had admitted the offences before his computer was interrogated by experts.

He added that Birkhead’s wife of 17 years Helen, who was in court, was standing by him.

“It has been difficult but she is supportive. He has suffered hardship – he was told that he couldn’t live at his home address, there was a lot of publicity and his landlord required him to vacate.

“He was suspended from his job and he decided to resign, losing a job in telephone sales because of the publicity. His fall has been a spectacular one when you look at what he was earning.”

The court heard how Birkhead, a man of previous good character, had voluntarily sought treatment and had “a deep sense of shame”.

Sentencing Birkhead, Judge Samuel Wiggs told him: “You have brought shame on yourself and, to some extent, your family.

“Immediate prison sentences are very common in circumstances like this but, having considered all the material, your guilty plea, professional circumstances and the steps you have taken to obtain treatment, I do not think it is necessary to send you directly to prison.”

He sentenced Birkhead to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with the requirement that he takes part in a sex offenders’ programme and is supervised for two years.

Birkhead will be a registered sex offender for seven years.