A disgraced vicar who was suspended from duties after admitting to possessing thousands of child abuse images has narrowly avoided a custodial prison sentence.

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

Appearing at Burnley Crown Court on Tuesday, the 54-year-old, now of Bank Parade, Burnley, was handed a community order by Judge Richard Archer, after he pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent images of children and one of possessing extreme pornographic images.

The court heard how Donaghey, who was a reverend at Baxenden St John Church, admitted his guilt to police before any of his devices could even be examined.

Prosecuting, Alaric Bassano, said: "The defendant's wife was present when he was arrested and was shocked and distraught.

"He was interviewed before the devices were examined and admitted he had been downloading such imagery for about two years.

"He told police that at first it was just images of naturism, but then this progressed, and he began using search terms such as 'under age' and 'Lolita', and accessed images from the dark web.

"Donaghey said his actions were more to do with curiosity and fascination than any sexual attraction and he had been overwhelmed with guilt."

Lancashire Telegraph: Tom Donaghey

The court was told how Donaghey, who was also chaplain at St Christopher's High School in Accrington, had been about to adopt young twins with his wife, a process which has now been cancelled.

Upon analysis of his devices, police found 297 category A images, 468 category B images, and 2,823 category C pictures of children, with category A being the worst kind of image.

Officers also uncovered 46 images of extreme pornography, and one single moving image of category B in nature.

Mr Bassano continued: "None of the images showed any children in pain but some were between the ages of three and five and in one case, under the age of 12 months.

"He has voluntarily undergone counselling and has said he is ashamed and disgusted of himself."

Defending Donaghey, Rosalind Emsley-Smith said her client was a man who had literally lost everything.

She told the court: "He said he has lost his entire history - everything he was, everything he did, and everything he was known for prior to this is erased and he is now known only for these offences.

"This is a heartbreaking observation and is not all of who he is - he now has to start rebuilding a life for himself.

"He has not asked to know what the likely outcome of this hearing would be as he said he deserves to be punished and would accept any outcome or punishment the court deemed to be appropriate."

Judge Archer said: "By seeking out these images you were perpetuating the cycle of child abuse.

"It's not just the downloading, it's that such downloading and viewing creates a market for such material."

Donaghey was handed a two year community order, told to complete 40 rehabilitation days, fined £100 and was made subject of a five year sexual harm prevention order with the relevant notification requirements.

Noting the sentencing outcome, the Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Julian Henderson, said a disciplinary under the Clergy Discipline Measure would now take place, stating: “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.”