A HAMPSHIRE university lecturer tried to kill himself after being caught in an international sting operation set up to tackle child abuse.

David Clarke, 46, was duped into believing he was chatting to another paedophile – in reality he was talking to a special agent stringing him along about exchanging sickening images of children.

The case was so disturbing that one officer investigating it had to take a break from her work at one stage because she found the work so “distressing.”

Clarke, a senior lecturer in psychology at Southampton Solent University, was later arrested at his home which he shared with his partner and their three young children.

An examination of his laptop and a memory stick revealed about 1,800 images involving children as a young as three being subjected to a horrifying catalogue of bondage, rape and sadism.

Prosecutor Tom Wright told the city crown court Clarke, who had been using chatrooms under the aliases of Davyboy, Emma Watson 27, and Kirstyandlouise, refused to give his password to the police who were unable to gain access to his accounts to determine the full amount of his trafficking.

Clarke, of Median Road, Shirley, admitted 20 charges of making, possessing and distributing still and moving images between the summer of 2009 and last November and was jailed for 30 months.

He had pleaded guilty to the charges at his preliminary hearing but sentence had been adjourned after he had tried to commit suicide.

Judge Peter Henry said: “The images concern a high number of different victims and there was a deliberate and systematic searching of the Internet for images for your sexual gratification.

“You deny you find children sexually attractive but in my view, sexual gratification is at the forefront of your offending.”

The judge said he accepted Clarke had suffered mental health problems, depression and alcoholism but he could not have misunderstood the harm he was causing children.

Stephen Tricker, defending said Clarke had “strayed” into viewing the material after searching the Internet for “interest” in other areas and then going into adult sites.

“He has expressed remorse and knows the shame he has brought upon himself and his family. He is motivated to tackle the treatment programme.”

Mr Tricker added: “His self-destruction is complete.”

In addition to the jail term, Clarke was placed on the sex offenders register and banned from working with children.

Under the terms of a sexual offences prevention order, he has restricted use of the Internet and cannot not be left alone with children except with the knowledge of the police or the child’s parents.

After the case a spokesman for Southampton Solent University said: “The individual concerned has not been present or teaching at the university for many months now.

“The university was first notified of this issue last week and has already put in place steps to address this as a matter of urgency.”