Former Harrogate hospital IT expert jailed after downloading thousands of indecent images of children

A former hospital IT expert who downloaded more than three-quarters of a million indecent images of children has been jailed yet again after breaching a court order designed to protect children.

Monday, 14th December 2020, 3:15 pm
Updated Monday, 14th December 2020, 3:16 pm

Martin Richard Shepherd, 49, was jailed for five years in 2017 after police found 748,000 illegal images of children on his computer equipment.

Shepherd, who was working as an IT support officer at Harrogate District Hospital at the time, was released from jail partway through his sentence but remained subject to strict curbs on his internet use which meant he had to make his computer devices available for inspection and prohibited him from deleting his search history.

Martin Richard Shepherd was given a two-year jail term and told he must serve two-thirds of that sentence behind bars, or until the Parole Board deemed him fit to be released.

But in September this year, supervising officers made a regulatory visit to his home in Harrogate and found that he had been removing evidence of his internet activity, York Crown Court heard.

Police seized a tablet from the property and examination of the device showed that Shepherd had downloaded a “vast amount” of pornography including indecent images of children, said prosecutor Matthew Collins.

Shepherd told officers that he “couldn’t help himself” and that he needed to be “institutionalised”.

The IT buff - who was forced to resign from his job at Harrogate Hospital in October 2016 following his arrest for the first set of offences - appeared for sentence on Thursday after pleading guilty to four counts of breaching a sexual-harm prevention order.

Mr Collins said that police found “large amounts” of data on Shepherd’s Android tablet after the unannounced visit on September 2. This data had been used over a four-month period between May and September.

“The defendant claimed that this could be explained by (deleting) some (video) games,” added Mr Collins.

“He suddenly became very upset, distressed and apologised.”

Shepherd admitted to officers that he had been deleting his internet history “because he had been embarrassed about they might have found”.

“He admitted watching both adult and child pornography,” said Mr Collins.

“He said he couldn’t stop himself (and that) he kept going back to a protected site.”

Extraordinarily, Shepherd confessed to officers that he had been viewing indecent videos of children at least “twice a week” and sometimes on a daily basis.

He said it was mainly sex scenes involving female children aged 10 and over. He would then “delete the account” on the website for fear of being caught.

Shepherd told police he “couldn’t resist the urge to watch child pornography on a daily basis”.

Shepherd, formerly of Chatsworth Grove, was described as a loner who had never had an intimate adult relationship.

He was said to have a “particular interest” in the sexual abuse of girls between the ages of 10 and 14.

In 2016, police cyber-crime detectives finally snared the paedophile IT expert and found that he had amassed about three- quarters of a million indecent image of children after using his computer skills to avoid detection for about 14 years.

He went undetected for so long because his expertise enabled him to encrypt the huge stash of vile images.

Shepherd, who worked in the IT department at Harrogate Hospital for 22 years, trawled the dark web for indecent images from May 2002 to the time of his arrest in June 2016.

Police found a “massive library collection” of photos and videos featuring the serious sexual abuse of “very young” children including 12-month-old babies and youngsters who had been drugged or plied with alcohol.

Of the 748,000 illegal images found on his equipment, just under 9,000 photos and videos were rated Category A - the worst kind of such material.

Shepherd had painstakingly catalogued the images in 22 encrypted volumes and used an “extremely-complex” system of passwords to hide them. Other images were deleted.

He also distributed at least 19 depraved videos on a paedophilic file-sharing site and spied on naked and barely-dressed teenagers at a property in Harrogate after setting up covert video equipment.

The sentencing judge at the time said it was “the worst case of its type that I have had to deal with in a long time in the law”.

Chillingly, the court heard that the images were “just a snapshot” of all the illegal images that Shepherd had amassed over the years.

In January 2017, Shepherd was given a five-year jail sentence and placed on the sex-offenders’ register for life for making and distributing indecent images of children, as well as gaining unauthorised access to private computer files at Harrogate Hospital and two counts of voyeurism related to webcams he had set up to take video footage of two female teenagers getting undressed in 2005 and 2012.

Richard Reed, mitigating at this week’s breach hearing, said Shepherd still had problems “controlling his urges”.

“He says the only way forward is for him to have a complete ban on accessing the internet in any form,” added Mr Reed.

Judge Simon Hickey said Shepherd was clearly a “dangerous” offender who had breached the order before.

He told Shepherd: “You said you were deleting (video) games, but the vast amount of material deleted (was) over 125 gigabytes. It must have been a vast amount of indecent material. Like you say, you can’t help it.”

Shepherd was given a two-year jail term and told he must serve two-thirds of that sentence behind bars, or until the Parole Board deemed him fit to be released.

Mr Hickey also ordered that Shepherd must serve an extended four-year period on prison licence upon his eventual release from jail.