A County Tyrone man caught with numerous indecent images of children has walked free with a probation order, despite having a record for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old child. In that instance, the judge controversially said the victim, “technically consented".

Richard William Samuel Crompton (49) from Backfarm Road, Drumquin resided in Norfolk when he sexually assaulted the girl after plying her with cannabis and beer.

The details were partially disclosed at a sentencing hearing before Dungannon Crown Court, and it’s unclear if local authorities were alerted to this when Crompton returned to Northern Ireland.

The possession of indecent images, the details of which are too graphic to report, occurred between May and July 2017.

While Judge Brian Sherrard QC accepted there was “continuing debate” about the Norwich case, he was required to sentence on the current matters.

A defence lawyer said Crompton accepted culpability at police interview and assisted the investigation by providing his computer passwords.

He said, “Any prospect of employment has been sadly ended by virtue of the reporting of this case. That’s not a criticism but it is unfortunately a clear outworking of the distaste a lot of the local community appear to have expressed.”

The defence agreed immediate custody was possible but: “The court is alert to the need for supervision and treatment … The previous conviction regrettably didn’t involve any treatment whatsoever. A probation order might be the safest sentence going forward for the community.”

Judge Sherrard said the offences carried a maximum 10 years imprisonment telling Crompton: “Parliament and society view these matters as extremely serious. It is perhaps trite to say, but must be fully understood, these are not victimless crimes. While you may not have touched the children depicted, you and others create a marketplace, provoking abuse. These children are not only abused once, but countless times due to the humiliation of being recorded and images distributed around the world.”

He continued: “These offences are rightly held to be loathsome. You utilised your computer to go onto the dark web. There were over 1,000 images and 201 videos … I understand in at least one image a child was as young as three …The search terms confirm a sexual interest in children, and given your past that can be described as entrenched. I don’t accept this was naivety, accident, boredom, addiction or the inability to delete. All images show abuse and no activity is consensual.”

The judge stated Crompton’s previous record was an aggravating factor, and he is classed as a moderate risk of recidivist offending, but noted no rehabilitative work was carried out, describing this as “a lost opportunity”.

He said: “This court ought to make it clear that those who possess such images should expect immediate imprisonment. However, there is also an obligation to protect the public and try to ensure no other child is compromised … The balance lies in favour of rehabilitation and only through sustained work, the community will be properly protected.”

Crompton was sentenced to three years probation “in which personal liberty will be severely restricted".

A Sexual Offences Prevention Order is to remain in place for eight years as well as sex offender notification requirements for five years.