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Disgraced vicar Tom Donaghey admits having over 3,000 child abuse images

A DISGRACED vicar who was suspended from duties after police swooped on his home has admitted to possessing thousands of child abuse images.

Tom Donaghey’s Baxenden vicarage was raided by officers in November and he was arrested, placed under investigation and suspended by Blackburn Diocese. He left the church soon after.

On Thursday the former Baxenden St John Church reverend appeared at Blackburn Magistrates Court where he admitted possession of over 3,000 vile images of children – 297 being classed as category A – the worst kind. These images are described as involving penetrative sexual activity and/or sexual activity.

The 53-year-old, now living in Burnley, also pleaded guilty to possessing 468 category B images of children and 2,823 category C pictures.

Analysis of his devices also uncovered 46 extreme pornographic images which portrayed in an explicit and realistic way an act which threatened a person’s life and which was grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.

Wearing a navy suit, blue shirt and sporting a ponytail, he also admitted possession of those images.

The diocese has condemned the 50-year-old’s actions in statements issued to the Lancashire Telegraph.

The Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, said: “The diocese is dismayed and deeply saddened that one of our clergy has fallen so far short of the standards expected by the Church in this way.

“Our safeguarding team was notified when Tom Donaghey was arrested and I immediately suspended him from all ministry duties. Donaghey subsequently resigned as Vicar of Baxenden St John and now holds no role in the Church.”

Julie Green, headteacher at Baxenden St John’s Primary School, said: “This is really upsetting, and our thoughts are with those who have been affected by it.

“I want to reassure our parents and carers that no staff or children at school have been involved with the court proceedings.

“It is a very distressing situation for our entire school community. We will continue to support our children and parents as necessary.”

Donaghey was sent on bail to Burnley Crown Court to be sentenced in August.

Tina Cunnane, prosecuting, said Donaghey was the vicar of St John’s when police received information linking his email address with indecent images of children.

Police attended the vicarage and seized the defendant’s laptop. An examination of the device revealed the child abuse pictures and grossly indecent images.

“When he was interviewed he admitted searching for the images” said Ms Cunnane.

“Due to the large number of images and his role in the community the Crown’s view is that these matters should be committed to the Crown Court to be sentenced.”

Aftab Bakhat, defending, said his client appreciated the seriousness of allegations and fully accepted his culpability.

“Your powers of punishment are clearly insufficient,” said Mr Bakhat.

In 2015, Donaghey spoke out about the ‘growing influence of pornography’ on young people in an interview with the Accrington Observer.

He was approached for comment after concerns were raised about the airing of a TV show in which pupils from a local school were taught about sex education.

The Rt Rev Henderson added: “The diocese strives to uphold the highest standards in safeguarding policy, training, practice and disciplinary action at all times and actions such as those described in court have no place in The Church of England.

“It is right that a Church investigation into his conduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure will still take place after sentencing.

“We have been informed the images involved were downloaded from the internet and do not involve any children Donaghey was in contact with in his role as a vicar.

“The online abuse of children destroys childhoods and devastates society. It is not tolerated by the church. We are offering pastoral support.”