Harrogate teacher jailed after spying on pupils with hidden cameras

Teacher Simon Knowles. (S)
Teacher Simon Knowles. (S)

A voyeuristic teacher who used secret spy cameras to film pupils undressing in his Harrogate classroom has been jailed for four and a half years.

Simon Mark Knowles, 52, concealed tiny spy cameras in a pen and a shirt button, using them to film his young students as they changed for PE before posting the pictures online.

The school teacher, who accidentally caught his own face on the camera, was also found to have downloaded thousands of indecent images featuring children as young as three.

Jailing him for four-and-a-half years at York Crown Court today, the Recorder of York Stephen Ashurst said: “This is a very disturbing case indeed.

“You fantasised on the internet about what you wanted to do to these children. In the cold light of day, the content of these exchanges was quite appalling.

“To say there’s been a wholesale breach of trust would be a considerable understatement.”

Knowles, who stood head bowed in the dock as the charges were read out, pleaded guilty to 24 counts including making, distributing, and possessing indecent images and videos, as well as voyeurism.

The court heard the teacher, now of Bridlington but living in Mallinson Oval in Harrogate at the time, was first questioned by police in April last year.

Officers had first been alerted to his “appalling” offending, said solicitors, after tracing images from an investigation in Surrey.

Searching his home, said prosecutor Alan Mitcheson, police found two computers, phones, and memory sticks, containing nearly 20,000 indecent images of children and 174 videos.

Some of the images he downloaded from the internet were of the worst level, said Mr Mitcheson, featuring children aged just three to six years old.

Police also found three spy cameras, one he had made himself, one hidden in a pen and a third disguised as a shirt button.

His own face had been captured on his secret cameras, the court heard, leaving police with no doubt as to who was doing the filming.

And, it emerges, the school’s headteacher, when clearing out his classroom after his arrest, found an adult sex toy and underwear hidden on site.

“He admitted using the cameras to film the children getting changed for PE and at the swimming baths,” said Mr Mitcheson. “He said he liked collecting images.

“None of the images of children from the school are indecent, but clearly they were taken for a sexual purpose.

“All of the parents have spoken of their concern about the impact it will have on their children and also of the breach of trust and sense of shock they feel about this man and they way he conducted himself when he was supposed to be looking after their children.”

Paul Smith, defending, pleaded with the judge to consider a reduced sentence.

“The defendant is a man of previous good character,” he said. “Implicit in this case is that Mr Knowles has betrayed so many people around himself, he has effectively lost everything.

“He accepts that punishment is required. He’s a man who acknowledges his offending behaviour, albeit struggles to come to terms with it.

“He’s prepared to put his effort into the treatment programme which awaits him.”

But Judge Ashurst, sentencing him to a total of four and a half years in prison, said: “I accept that you have lost your family, your home, career and reputation.

“The cause of that downfall has been a flaw in your personality and character which has become evident in recent years with your obsession with indecent images of young children.

“The extent to which you life has been taken over is evident. You family are, quite rightly, betrayed and shocked. None more so than your now divorced wife.

“You have been living a double life for so many years, I can only imagine the enormous sense of betrayal she must feel.”

Knowles was also made subject to a sexual offences prevention order, banned from working with children and put on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely.

“The fact that you had in your classroom, along with underwear, an adult sex toy, leaves no doubt as to the sexual kicks you got from filming your own pupils,” said Judge Ashurst.

“Very often judges are told that paedophiles don’t appreciate there are real children in these images, that they have been desensitised.

“But you know these are real children, you have been the carer of these children and their education. You would have been more aware of that than any other.

“The dismay of the parents has been said with one voice; the utter shock that someone in charge of their children betrayed them in this way.”

The school has not been named to protect the identity of the children.

Police comment

Speaking after the case, investigating officer Detective Sergeant Mark Jackson, of North Yorkshire Police said he was satisfied with the sentence.

“On the face of it, Simon Knowles was a well-liked teacher who had the respect of his colleagues and aspired to be an assistant head teacher,” he said.

“In reality, he was a calculating and deceitful man who completely abused his position of trust for his own sexual gratification.

“The level of betrayal, falseness and dishonesty he has displayed over a number of years is rarely seen.

“He filmed innocent children while they were getting changed, using covert methods which highlights the lengths he was prepared to go to indulge his twisted fantasies.

“The fact that he was also sharing images on the internet, some of them at the highest level of seriousness, shows that Knowles is a sick and depraved man who I am extremely glad that we have caught. He betrayed his family, his colleagues, his profession and, ultimately, the children he was entrusted to educate and their parents.

“He has shown no remorse for his actions throughout the investigation which was a long and difficult process for the officers involved, everyone connected with the school and, of course, his victims.

“Simon Knowles is an intelligent man which makes his conduct all the more abhorrent and quite frankly prison is the best place for him.”

Council statement

A statement issued by North Yorkshire County Council said: “The school and the local authority have fully cooperated with the police throughout the investigation, and the school has supported parents throughout this terrible ordeal.

“Child protection remains the highest priority for the county and all proper child protection procedures and safeguards are followed by the local authority when employing staff to work with children.”