A PRISON officer’s previous “exemplary character” was shattered when it emerged he had sought images of young girls being sexually abused.

Durham Crown Court was told computer devices seized by police from Allen Marrs’ Stanley home, in July, were found to contain 27 offending still images, six classed in the most serious category.

The court heard before the equipment was analysed, Allen, who was working part-time at Durham Prison, told police they contained images of clothed young girls, aged ten upwards.

But he claimed they were not of a pornographic nature, as such images were, “ill and disgusting”, and that kind of material could, “damage little bodies and minds.”

He told police looking at such images was, “as bad as taking part”, but added that he did get sexually aroused viewing material that would be found on his computer.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said the recovered images, featuring abuse of girls aged ten to 13, were found on a memory stick and computer tower.

Mr Baker said paedophilic search terms were used to seek out the material, while the contents of some online chats revealed, “an unhealthy interest in children.”

When Marrs was re-interviewed in the light of the analysis he made no reply to further police questioning.

But, appearing recently before magistrates, the 63-year-old defendant, of Queen’s Parade, admitted three counts of making indecent images of children, relating to those in categories A, B and C.

Andrew Rutter, for Marrs, told the court: “There are two salient points in mitigation, namely his timely guilty pleas and his hitherto exemplary character, having, now, only come to court at the first time at the age of 63.

Mr Rutter said a “deeply contrite” Marrs confessed to family members and accepted he needed help, enrolling on a “Stop it now” online service to address the problem.

Judge Simon Hickey said given his previous good character, his admissions, and his attempts to address his offending behaviour, he could avoid an immediate prison sentence.

He passed an eight-month sentence, suspended for a year, with 20 one-to-one probation rehabilitation activity days, and an £85 costs order.

Marrs was also made subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and notification as a sex offender, both for ten years.