A FORMER teacher at a Fordingbridge prep school has admitted downloading almost 200 indecent images of children.

“Dedicated and competent” John Paul Clarke searched on Russian websites for photographs of young boys while living in a flat in the grounds of Forres Sandle Manor.

Police discovered he had used terms including ‘teen boy’ and ‘boy punishment’ as search terms, even accessing images on his laptop just hours before he was arrested.

Clarke was yesterday spared jail at Bournemouth Crown Court after a judge said it was in the public interest to rehabilitate the 35-year-old instead.

He had admitted 17 counts of making indecent images before magistrates.

Anita Gibson-Lee, prosecuting, said police had first started to investigate Clarke after he ordered a DVD involving footage of young children online using his personal email address.

She said: “He gave consent for his Toshiba laptop to be examined.

“He stated at that time that no indecent images of children would be found.”

However, officers discovered he had been accessing indecent images of children.

Mitigating, Richard Martin said parents at the school had taken the unusual step of writing letters to the judge in support of the defendant.

“He made a very full and frank admission to the offences. This is a defendant of previous good character and I am able to put before the court a bundle of references,” he said.

He added that Clarke was a “vulnerable” man who would “struggle in custody”.

“He has clearly suffered something as a child that may well be coming back to haunt him,” Mr Martin said.

Sentencing Clarke, of Banks Road, Poole, to a three-year supervised community order with a requirement to attend a treatment programme, as well as an indefinite Sexual Offences Prevention Order, Judge Samuel Wiggs explained that he would otherwise be limited to a six-month sentence of imprisonment.

“I have to consider what is the right sentence in the interests of the public, in the interests of the law and indeed in your own interests,” he said.