A senior teacher of one of Britain's top state schools was found with 6,600 child abuse images on his computer after being snared by a police under cover operation.
Peter Webber resigned as head of physics at Colyton Grammar School in Devon and tried to hang himself after exchanging fantasies in an internet chat room with a detective who posed as a fellow paedophile.
Webber, 51, moved from an addiction to adult pornography to becoming fascinated by images of children and spent hours before or after his school day searching them out in the internet.
He was trapped when he logged into a chat room which was being monitored by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Unit and spoke to the under cover policeman.
The officer asked him if he would turn his fantasies into reality and have sex with a 12-year-old girl and Webber, using a false identity, replied that he would.
He was traced and arrested while taking a party of children across Dartmoor after police raided his home in East Devon and seized his computers.
The 6,687 images included 262 showing children having sex with adults and 35 in the most serious category which shows torture, sadism or bestiality. They featured girls aged three to 15.
Webber, of Lincoln Close, Exmouth, admitted 15 charges of making and two of distributing indecent images.
He was jailed for six months, suspended for two years and ordered to attend a sex offenders’ treatment programme by Judge Phillip Wassall at Exeter Crown Court.
The Judge said he was sparing him jail because he had acknowledged his addiction to pornography and already started working with the specialist charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation to overcome it.
He said:”It is an aggravating feature that at the time you were a teacher but on the other hand I must point out there is no evidence at all that you crossed the line into contact offences and a great deal of evidence that you did not.
“Your work as a teacher put you in the presence of children and there is no suggestion that you crossed the line and sought to engage the children in your fantasies, despite having the facility to do so.
“You did not enter into any form of contact with children despite having ample opportunity to do so. You were able not to cross the line despite the distorted thinking that led you to commit these gross and horrific offences.
“You now accept the effect these images have on the children and are motivated to address your offending behaviour and are now deeply opposed to indecent images and aware of the corrosive harm they do to society.”
Miss Janice Eagles, prosecuting, said Webber was traced after entering into a chat room discussion with an undercover CEOPS officer on a site called motherless.com.
He used the pseudonym Paul45 and had been a member of the site since 2009. He started his online chat at 7.00 am on a school day and ended it at 7.45 am.
Miss Eagles said:”The officer asked whether he would act on his fantasies in relation to having sexual activity with a 12-year-old girl and he indicated he would.
“Police executed a warrant at his home on June 7 and he was not present because he was on a school course on Dartmoor, where he was found and arrested.
“He told police he went online early in the morning or when he came back from school but denied conducting himself in any way improperly while at school.
“We say his position as a teacher ought to have made him more aware of the vulnerability of children and where he ought to have been protecting rather than exploiting them or taking advantage of those who had already been exploited.”
He had more than 6,600 still images, all of girls aged three to 15.
Mr Adrian Chaplin, defending, said Webber had taken responsibility for his behaviour, admitted it to family and friends, and defied the advice of his union by resigning on the spot.
He also tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in the loft of the home he shared with his wife and two sons, but was rescued and survived.
He has since enrolled with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation to seek help for his addiction to pornography.
He said:”This offending was the result of his individual addiction. He has been candid about how the matters progressed. He moved from adult pornography through his use of chatrooms.
“He compartmentalised this behaviour from his professional life. He blinded himself to the reality of what this pornography shows.
“This case has led to the loss of a career of which he was justifiably proud. It was a 29-year career in which his work was inspirational.
“He was only too aware of the shame he had brought on himself and those he loves and within a week of his arrest he wrote notes saying farewell to his wife and two sons and went to his attic where he attempted to take his own life by hanging.”
Colyton Grammar School has been rated among the top state schools for more than ten years and is currently in the top ten of selective school tables for GCSEs and A levels.
At the time of the arrest a school spokesman said:“The school obviously takes this development very seriously and is cooperating fully with the police investigation.
“I can reassure you that, as far as we are aware at this stage, the allegations do not relate in any way to the school or anyone in its community. I can, however, confirm that the school is taking appropriate action in accordance with its internal procedures and arrangements are already in place to cover the member of staff’s duties in school whilst appropriate investigations take place.
"This has come as a very big surprise to the school community and it is something the school has to come to terms with."
School head shocked by conviction
The head teacher of a leading grammar school has spoken of his shock at learning that one of his senior teachers was watching internet child abuse images.
Paul Evans, head of Colyton Grammar School in East Devon, said staff and students had no idea of teacher Peter Webber's secret life.
Webber received a six month suspended sentence at Exeter Crown Court after admitting 17 counts of making or distributing indecent images of children.
Mr Evans said:"The Peter Webber we thought we knew, was a hard working teacher, the Head of Physics here since 2002.
"All who knew and worked with Peter were shocked by his arrest and continue to be so as more details of his offences become public. Nothing about his behaviour in school had led to any concerns.
"We are relieved that the judge has confirmed there is no suggestion that Mr Webber allowed his private life to cross into this school.
"I wrote to the judge to outline just how much Mr Webber, who had a national reputation for his work as a physics teacher, had thrown away through his activities.
"As a school community, we’ve picked ourselves up and focused on ensuring that classes continue to receive a first class education in physics and every other subject."