A SHERIFF has been criticised for not imposing a prison sentence on the director of a Scottish oil company who was caught with almost 50,000 images of child pornography.
Liam Gibson, 56, avoided being sent to jail after a court heard he had helped police investigating child porn on the internet.
He was sentenced to three years probation and 150 hours community service at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday.
His sentence was criticised by children’s charities, who said it risked sending out the wrong message about the seriousness of the offences.
Cases in which similar hauls of child porn have been found have resulted in jail sentences of up to five years.
Sheriff James Scott passed the sentence after hearing how the businessman had fully co-operated with police trying to bring online paedophiles to justice.
Gordon Jackson, QC, defending, told the court: “He has fully co-operated with the police and with the Crown. We know that the police are content with his level of co-operation and with what he has told them.
“They have found the information to be helpful. We do not know whether there have been arrests in somewhere like Sheffield as a consequence of what he has told them – that is secret, confidential information. But what I can say is that his information has greatly assisted them.”
Donald Findlater, a spokesman on sexual abuse at child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: “It is somewhat surprising that a prison sentence did not happen here, but each case is based on an individual set of circumstances and the individual’s future behaviour.
“It’s important the sentence doesn’t send a message to other offenders or, indeed victims, that this stuff doesn’t matter – it most seriously does matter and we need to make sure the courts pay attention to that.”
Kate Smith, Children 1st’s director of communications, said: “Downloading child pornography is not a victimless crime. Behind every image there is a real child who has suffered in the making of that image.
“We know how difficult it is for children who have been abused to come forward, for fear they will not be believed or their disclosure not taken seriously. That’s why it’s important for the justice system to treat and dispose of such cases consistently.”
Gibson from Biggar, Lanarkshire, pleaded guilty last month to possessing indecent images of children at his then home in Pathhead, Midlothian. Sentence had been deferred until yesterday for the court to obtain reports.
The former Merchant Navy sailor owns Gibson Marine, which operates throughout the world transporting rigs to oil fields and which turned a profit of £102,000 in 2010.
Gibson used secret file-sharing software in which he exchanged photographs with others online before being caught by officers from Lothian and Borders Police.
Gibson, who calls himself Captain on his business website, was arrested after his home was raided by police in May 2011. Officers discovered a total of 49,809 indecent images on his computer. The majority of the images contained boys who were aged five to 14.
Mr Jackson told the court his client’s personal life lay in ruins as a consequence of being arrested. His wife had left him after he confessed to what he had been doing on the internet behind her back.
He added: “He has had a long career in the Merchant Navy and has in recent years gone into business. He is engaged in extremely skilled work.
“He is thought to be one of the world’s best in a highly specialised sector. He is a world renowned expert.
“There are some positive aspects in his life.”
Mr Jackson said the police recognised that Gibson had fully co-operated and provided them with information that helped their inquiries. However, neither the procurator fiscal nor Mr Jackson disclosed exactly what Gibson had told detectives.
Sheriff Scott said Mr Jackson had persuaded him not to send Gibson to prison.
However, he warned Gibson that he would be sent to jail if he accessed internet child porn again.
He added: “I am persuaded that the most appropriate way to deal with this is to impose a probation order.
“The probation order is for a period of three years. You will also perform 150 hours of unpaid work in the community.”