Passport Office worker avoids jail after admitting to stealing 30 photos of young girls

A Passport Office worker who had a sexual interest in children has avoided jail after admitting to stealing 30 photos of young girls from applications and downloading indecent images of abuse.

James Close, 36, stole the images from the Durham Passport Office where he worked.

Last January police searched the home Close shared with his elderly parents in Shildon, County Durham, and found over 1,000 indecent images of children - including over 100 of the worst category - on three electronic devices.

They also discovered extreme pornography involving bestiality.

Close stole the photos from the Durham Passport Office Credit: ITV News

Officers found 30 passport photos, all of which were of girls aged between six and 16. Close took the photos home from work.

Most of the 30 had become detached from their documentation and should have been re-attached or destroyed, although instead Close took them home.

The mother of one of the girls made an emotional victim impact statement to Durham Crown Court.

She said: "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."

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.

He said: "They were attractive to him, he says no more than that."

Close was sentenced at Durham Crown Court on Friday Credit: ITV News

Close was sentenced to two years in jail, suspended for two years, with a curfew and 30 days rehabilitation.

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

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

"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 impact 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."