A FORMER education official who downloaded more than 600 indecent images of children has walked free from court after receiving a suspended prison sentence.

Robert Ian Finlay, 53, of Barnes Crescent, East Howe, had earlier pleaded guilty to 17 offences committed between January 1, 2009 and January 10 this year.

Sentencing at Bournemouth Crown Court, Judge Samuel Wiggs handed him an eight-month spell in prison, suspended for two years.

He told him: “There is no public interest in sending you immediately to prison."

Indecent pictures of children are rated between one and five with level one images said to be the least serious and level five the most serious.

The charges related to 328 level one images, 23 level two, 156 level three, 86 level four and eight level five.

Jane Portman, executive director for adults' and children's services at Bournemouth Borough Council where Finlay worked at the time of his arrest, said today: "While we are surprised with the suspended sentence we do accept the judge’s decision.

"This has been a difficult time for all those in Children’s Services and many in the wider council. This brings closure of the matter and allows everyone to move on.

"The council remains committed to the safeguarding of our children and young people and continues to work closely with the Police and other agencies on investigations to root out all activity which places children at risk.”

Following his guilty plea, she added: “We have robust recruitment processes in place at the council and full background checks, including Criminal Records Bureau disclosures, are made on any individual coming to work in children's services.

“The case was no different with this individual, who came back with a clean record.

“As soon as the matter was brought to our attention Mr Finlay was immediately suspended from his post.

“He was subsequently dealt with through to the Council's disciplinary proceedings and been dismissed.”