November 2017

Northern Ireland church member had 7,000 child sexual abuse images

A north Antrim man heavily involved with his local church has been put on probation for three years after he was caught with more than 7,000 indecent images of children.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan told Craig Serplus (60) that while his offences “clearly cross the custody threshold”, given his guilty pleas, remorse and willingness to address his behaviour, he was satisfied there was a “sufficient prospect of real rehabilitation” so he imposed probation and a 100 hour community service order.

He told Serplus, who stood in the dock with his head bowed throughout the judge’s sentencing remarks, that: “I wish to make it clear to you that your crimes are extremely serious and you are fortunate indeed that the probation service have suggested this perfectly proper, reasonable way forward as an alternative to custody.”

At an earlier hearing, Serplus, from Clagan Park in Aghadowey, pleaded guilty to 20 counts of making and possessing indecent images of children on various dates between June 7, 2013, and February 18 last year.

Recounting the facts of the case, Judge Marrinan described how police searched Serplus’ home, seizing computers, laptops, memory sticks and hard drives. Those items were forensically examined and police identified “7,415 unique files of various kinds … approximately 15% fell into category A and the remainder a mixture of categories A and B”, said the judge.

Judge Marrinan described that category A were considered to be the most serious and that, of the files uncovered, many were stills images but there were also videos of children being abused.

“Many of the boys depicted were pre or early teens but, sadly, there were children younger than that, between 6 and 10 years old,” he told the court.

Arrested and interviewed, Serplus, an engineer for the Housing Executive before he took early retirement, “was less than honest and forthcoming,” claiming “it was his attraction to naturism” which led him to download some images “and young children may have been in the background”.

When the material he downloaded was pointed out to Serplus, “he argued that he was interested in adult pornography, not child pornography” although when the case came to court he pleaded guilty.

Judge Marrinan said the “age and vulnerability of the children” in the images was an aggravating factor, as was the length of time Serplus had possession of the images.

In mitigation, the judge continued, was Serplus’s guilty plea and remorse, as well as testimonials from his minister and the clerk of session at Aghadowey Presbyterian Church which outlined that he had volunteered in various committees over the last 17 years.

Judge Marrinan revealed the church minster had been counselling Serplus and that the accused also “had the support of his family and close friends and spiritual community”.

He told the court it was clear from the probation report and a psychologist’s report that Serplus had the “belated realisation” that his offending behaviour was not victimless and that harm was caused to children in the creation of the indecent images.

As well as the probation and community service orders, the judge ordered Serplus to sign the police sex offenders register for five years.

He also imposed a 14-condition Sexual Offences Prevention Order on Serplus, also set to last five years.