Stoke & Staffordshire

Staffordshire vicar guilty of viewing child sex images

Dominic Stone
Image caption Stone will be sentenced next month

A vicar has been found guilty of downloading indecent images of children from the internet at his vicarage in Staffordshire.

The Reverend Dominic Stone, 47, of Marchington, was convicted of 16 counts of making indecent images of children on 7 and 8 January 2009.

About 600 indecent images of children were found on his computer.

He was released on unconditional bail pending reports and will be sentenced at Stafford Crown Court in December.

His defence claimed the images had been downloaded by someone other than Stone but jurors took about three-and-a-half hours on Wednesday to return a unanimous guilty verdict.

'Not accidental'

Michelle Heeley, prosecuting, said Stone's wife had been at work on the dates in question and he was the only person with access to his computer.

Experts said at the time the images were downloaded, the computer had also been used for legitimate purposes too, for children's Christmas activities linked to the Epiphany.

She told the jurors: "Whoever was looking at these (images) didn't just accidentally stumble across them - they saw the image and looked at it again."

Stone, a father himself, was suspended from his post as team vicar of Marchington, Marchington Woodlands, Kingstone and Leigh, when his computer was seized by police in January.

They had acted after being given a tip-off that indecent images had been seen on the computer.

'Even more abhorrent'

The defence posed various theories for why the images may have been on his computer, which included a virus or someone with a key to the vicarage accessing his computer.

Speaking after the trial Det Con Rob Hadgett, from Staffordshire Police, said: "Dominic Stone was a well-known and popular member of the local community who held a position of trust and influence. His standing made the crimes he committed even more abhorrent.

"Every one of the hundreds of images he downloaded represented a child victim of sexual abuse. Following his arrest last year, and the charges that followed, Stone refused to admit his guilt or shoulder the blame for his offences - despite the overwhelming evidence against him."

The Diocese of Lichfield said the protection of children was a top priority for it and the Church of England as a whole. It said Stone was suspended after it was informed of the police investigation.

Diocese spokesman Gavin Drake said it would await sentencing "before considering the removal of Dominic Stone from his current position and prohibition of serving as a priest".

The vicar's suspension will continue until the end of the process.

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