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Dad blamed his paedophilia on wife dying of cancer

A dad-of-three caught downloading child rape images said he ‘descended’ into paedophilia after his wife died of cancer.

Laura Pemberton, 29, from Knowsley, Merseyside, died just six weeks after being told she had a rare and aggressive form of the disease.

She walked down the aisle with her partner and the dad to her three children, Gareth Sumner, the day before she died in June 2010.

More than 10 years later, the widower was in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court, having admitted to downloading indecent images of children when high on drink and drugs.

But Sumner, 39, was spared jail after his defence lawyer explained how his grieving client ‘descended into this world’ after losing his partner.

Prosecutor Charles Lander said police raided the family’s home in Fazakerley, Liverpool, on December 13, 2017.

Sumner denied any illegal internet use before handing over his mobile phone, but the court heard it was ‘immediately apparent’ the device contained indecent images of young girls.

The former security worker was arrested and taken in for questioning, when he suggested his Facebook account had been ‘hacked’ and that someone else was responsible.

A second phone was also recovered from his home and 64 indecent images were found when the two devices were analysed.

Police experts discovered nine files in the most serious Category A, including one video, showing children being raped.

There were a further 11 Category B and 44 Category C images, along with one extreme porn image.

The images were downloaded over a near three-year period, between February 2015 and December 2017.

Mr Lander said there was evidence of internet searches using terms including ‘pre-teen’, ‘jail bait’ and ‘candy doll’.

Sumner was interviewed again, but still denied responsibility, and was set to stand trial last year.

However, ahead of the trial he admitted three counts of downloading and one of possessing indecent images, plus one count of possessing extreme porn.

He has four previous convictions for four unrelated offences, between 1999 and 2007, all resulting in discharges or fines.

Defender Andrew Costello accepted there was ‘minimisation’ by Sumner of his offending in a pre-sentence report.

Judge Gary Woodhall said: ‘It’s more than a minimisation isn’t it Mr Costello? It’s actually a denial of the offences – he denies knowledge.’

Mr Costello said the author of the report found his client had shown either an ‘inability or reluctance’ to accept his conduct.

He said although Sumner repeated the claim that he had been hacked, he now accepted downloading the images and stood by his guilty pleas.

The court heard how Laura was diagnosed with cancer when their son and two daughters were aged 14 months and four and five-years-old respectively.

Mr Costello said: ‘There was a lot of coverage of the situation, because she sadly passed away within six weeks of being diagnosed.

‘They were married and then she passed away, very shortly thereafter. He struggled to deal with that situation, as one might expect.

‘Two years later, the family home was burgled and the photos he had of his late wife were stolen within that burglary.

‘At that point his world fell apart further than it already had with her loss.’

Mr Costello said Sumner had not set out to download child abuse images, but that this came during a ‘descent into a very different lifestyle’ involving heavy drinking and taking drugs, including ketamine.

He said his client ‘entered into a world, existing in the night hours’ and downloaded a lot of the images in the early hours of the morning ‘when undoubtedly under the influence of drugs’ and showing ‘disinhibited behaviour’.

Mr Costello added: ‘It might be some explanation how he descended into this world.’

He told the court how the Probation Service believed they could make good progress in rehabilitating his client.

The lawyer added: ‘He’s in a position where he wants to undertake that work and explore further how he ended up here.’

Judge Woodhall said to Sumner’s credit he now abandoned his claims of innocence and accepted responsibility.

He noted the ‘difficult personal circumstances’ the defendant had ‘laboured under for 10 years or so’.

Judge Woodhall said as a consequence of his wife’s death, Sumner suffered with mental health problems, then abused drugs and alcohol, with the situation being made all the worse by the burglary of the family home.

However, he said: ‘You’ve denied any sexual interest in children to the probation officer.

‘I reject that assertion. You obviously had a sexual interest in children. That in my judgement is why you sought out these sort of images.’

The judge said the Probation Service assessed Sumner as a low risk of re-offending and of causing serious harm.

He added: ‘You’re described as being willing and wanting to embrace help that can be offered to you, at a time when your life has reached rock bottom. As well as losing custody of your children you’ve lost your home.’

Judge Woodhall said he was ‘just persuaded there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation’, given that Sumner had stayed out of trouble three years after the offences and his acceptance that he needed help.

He handed him 14 months in prison, suspended for 18 months, and a 40-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement.

Judge Woodhall told Sumner to sign on the Sex Offenders Register and comply with a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 10 years.

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