A man who had been downloading pictures and movies of child abuse since he was a 12-year -old has walked free from court.

Callum MacHardie stored and saved some of the vile material after searching for it online, a court heard.

But after being told the 26-year-old was suitable for a three year treatment programme a judge imposed a community order.

Mike Blitz, prosecuting, told Swindon Crown Court that police went to MacHardie's home in March, seized his computers and arrested him.

When he was first questioned he said he had never seen any images of child abuse online and nothing would be found on his computer.

But when the machines and storage media were sent for analysis a number of movies, many at the worst level, were found.

"They were stored in a file named 'one' and there was evidence that that laptop had been used to search for indecent images of children," he said.

A second computer was found to have similar search terms used on it and other movies were found to have been deleted.

On two further machines, although no images were found, a similar array of search terms had been used.

When he was questioned for a second time he accepted that the computer were all his and used by him but otherwise refused to answer questions.

MacHardie, of Arley Close, Abbey Meads, pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent images of a child.

Claire Fear, defending, said her client had not been in trouble with the police before and took full responsibility for what he had done.

She said the pre-sentence report told how he showed great concern for the victims depicted in the images, realising they were the victims of sex abuse.

The probation service has said he is suitable for a treatment programme which is the best way of tackling any future risk of offending.

She said his childhood was blighted by bullying and isolation and he had been viewing the material since he was 12 years old.

As a result of his arrest she said he had been forced to defer starting a degree course in anthropology at Durham University.

Passing sentence Judge Tim Mousley QC said: "You are 26 now and have no previous convictions.

"Importantly you have insight into how looking at this material, such as you did, can create victims and every youngster who appears in these images is a the victim of a sexual offence.

"I also take into account what is said about your mental health issues and you are also someone who seems to have some potential as far as university is concerned."

He imposed a three-year community order with the Internet Sex Offenders Treatment Programme and 30 days of rehabilitation activity requirement.

The judge also imposed a sexual harm prevention order for five years restricting his use of the internet.

An NSPCC spokesperson for South West England said: “By viewing this appalling material for more than 10 years, MacHardie helped to fuel this shocking trade in child sex abuse imagery, which destroys countless children's lives across the world.

“Every single image is a crime scene, and the suffering experienced by these vulnerable young victims should not be underestimated.

“More needs to be done to tackle this vile trade and cut this material off at the source, but even then there is no guarantee that these images will ever disappear from the web and with every click, victims are re-abused.

“Any adult with concerns for the welfare of a child or young person can call the NSPCC’s helpline on 0808 800 5000. Children can call ChildLine on 0800 1111.”

Earlier this month, the NSPCC released a report which warned that, based on the latest research, around half a million men in the UK today may have viewed child sexual abuse images online – far larger than previous estimates.

The NSPCC is now calling on Government to implement a tough action plan to cut off the supply of these images, deter people from viewing them in the first place, and therefore prevent children being abused to satisfy the vile trade.