SERVING police officer in Hampshire was caught distributing indecent images of children online by an undercover operation, a court heard.

Gary Prince, who resigned within days of his arrest, was jailed for three years yesterday after a court heard how thousands of images were discovered on his computer.

A court was told how a user on a file -sharing network, who had been sharing images of children, was traced back to the 49-year-old police constable.

Prince, who had been in the police for 21 years and was at the time an area car driver working in Fareham, had been unaware that he had been engaging with an undercover officer at the time, the court heard.

He was also a school governor and had been a trainer with a children’s motorcycle display team.

Tammy Mears, prosecuting, told Portsmouth Crown Court how the father’s computer contained more than 500 moving images and more than 2,000 photographs.

The court heard Prince had shared these images with at least 12 other people.

The offences stretched from 2008 to 2012.

Ms Mears said police discovered on Prince's laptop a screen shot of a girl, allegedly aged around ten, being sexually abused by a man who claimed to be her father and claimed to be in America.

The court heard that Prince had directed the activity between the man and the girl through a video link.

Prince, of Prinsted Walk, Fareham, confessed in interview his involvement and accepted that he had an interest in girls aged seven to 11, the court heard.

He also admitted having different profiles, including one where he claimed to be an 11-year-old girl.

Prince pleaded guilty to three charges of distributing indecent images of children, three charges of possessing indecent images of children, another of taking an indecent image of a child and one of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.

James Bloomer, mitigating, said that the 49-year-old had no previous convictions, had addressed his behaviour through counselling, told friends and family, and reports showed he was not seeking to rationalise or excuse what he had done.

He said that Prince was described in one of numerous references from friends and family as “the world’s best father”.

Judge Iain Pearson said he had taken into account Prince’s early guilty plea, remorse and action to treat his addiction to indecent images of children.

Prince was put on the sex offenders’ register for life, disqualified from working with children indefinitely and the judge ordered that the computer and images be destroyed.

Detective Inspector Richard Wheeler, of the Paedophile and Online Investigation Team, said: “Clearly, while none of the offences are linked to Prince’s role as a police officer, he was trusted by his colleagues and by the public and has let them down.

“We must remember that every one of the thousands of images in Prince’s possession was an image of a child being subjected to abuse.”