CHILDREN’S welfare groups have slammed a suspended prison sentence handed to an education official who downloaded child abuse images from the internet.

Robert Ian Finlay was responsible for online safety with children’s services at Bournemouth Borough Council when he copied more than 600 grotesque indecent images of children.

Yesterday he walked free from court after receiving an eight-month spell in prison suspended for two years.

Sentencing at Bournemouth Crown Court, Judge Samuel Wiggs told Finlay: “There is no public interest in sending you immediately to prison.”

A children’s charity leader said the sentence did not “do justice” to the severity of the “despicable” crime.

And the head of children’s services in Bournemouth said she was “surprised” with the suspended sentence.

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

The court heard that a total of 601 indecent images were found on Finlay’s home computer – 328 level one images, 23 level two, 156 level three, 86 level four and eight of the most serious level five.

Nicholas Robinson, prosecuting, said “aggravating” features of the case were that Finlay was employed as the lead for online safety for children’s services at Bournemouth Borough Council and was a governor at the Bourne Academy in West Howe.

Finlay has since left both positions.

Finlay also worked as an ITC co-ordinator in a number of schools helping improve online safety.

Andrew Baker, mitigating, said the freely available images were downloaded in bundles but were subsequently deleted after he’d viewed them.

He said Finlay was going through “turmoil” following the death of his father and the breakdown of his marriage.

Judge Wiggs made a Sexual Offences Prevention Order which restricts Finlay’s use of the internet and storing images on all devices.

He also ordered him to comply with the Thames Valley Sex Offender Programme and sign the Sex Offenders Registers for 10 years.

After the case, Jane Portman, executive director for children and adults in Bournemouth, said: “While we are surprised with the suspended sentence we do accept the judge’s decision.”

Claude Knights, CEO of children’s charity Kidscape, said: “It seems reasonable to say that an eight-month suspended sentence does not do justice to the severity of the crimes.

“It can only be hoped that an appropriate treatment programme as well as the other measures in place will help to ensure that such behaviours are not repeated by this individual.

“The downloading of indecent images of children is a despicable crime especially when undertaken by an individual with significant standing and responsibilities.

“This breach of trust is a betrayal on many levels. Each abusive image represents a crime scene and those who seek such material create a market for it.”

Alison Shelton, of Bournemouth’s LV=Streetwise children’s safety centre, said: “It can be the most innocuous, normal-looking people that engage in this sort of activity.

“These people think they are okay because they continue to escape the net. It’s down to all of us to react if we are suspicious and tell the police.”

Jon Brown, head of strategy for sexual abuse at the NSPCC, said: “This is such an incredibly huge haul of dreadful pictures that we don’t believe a suspended sentence is enough.

“A jail term would have sent a much stronger message that this is a very serious crime.”