A successful businessman caught with more than 1,700 child abuse images today avoided jail after a judge heard he needs to care for his cancer-stricken wife.

Steven Bowden claimed he viewed the explicit photos while he was under a lot of 'distress' at the time due to his spouse Heather's diagnosis with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

While being investigated by police and in a moment of 'pure panic' the businessman - who owns a bespoke joinery company - destroyed a computer hard drive and dumped it in a river, a court was told.

But the 60 year old avoided jail after a judge highlighted how his wife - who has 'stood by him' - 'needs' him due to her health condition.

Prosecutor Rod Blain told Southampton Crown Court that Bowden's £900,000 home in Hythe in the New Forest was searched by police in July 2022.

But after officers visited his office in Salisbury, he removed a hard drive, smashed it and threw it in a nearby river.

James Bull, mitigating, described the destruction of the hard drive as an 'impulsive' moment.

He added: "It was a state of pure panic - it was not done as calculated as one might expect."

Bowden claimed to have gained access to the child porn after he was sorting the 'estate' of a deceased family member.

Mr Bull said: "The desktop tower that was in his possession - he received from a family member.

"He received the computer and also the content on the computer.

"He accepts at the time he should have informed the police about the content.

"Instead, he viewed the content and did not take that course of action."

Bowden was found with 1,734 indecent images of children - 145 of which were Category A, the most serious kind.

Mr Bull told the court he is a 'successful businessman' who co-owns a 'bespoke joinery company' with his son but that in 2022 his wife had received her diagnosis.

"Mr Bowden was experiencing a significant amount of emotional and psychological distress at the time," he said.

He added: "[This is] something that he did once and he accepts that it's the biggest mistake he has ever made."

Bowden pleaded guilty to three charges of making an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child and one charge of perverting the court of justice.

Judge Christopher Parker said 'the destruction of the hard drive is a very serious matter' but highlighted the case's mitigating features - in particular in 'regard' to his wife'.

He said: "She has stood by you - notwithstanding the nature of your offending - but she needs you because of her health condition."

The judge handed Bowden an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

He will also have to complete 200 hours of unpaid work, pay £1,000 in prosecution costs, and complete rehabilitation activity requirements.

Bowden was also issued with a sexual harm prevention order to last for the next 10 years.