AN ex-RAF man who watched videos of babies being tortured on the dark web has been spared jail.

Despite admitting to watching the 'harrowing' and 'distressing' graphic content, Jonathan Brentnall was given a suspended sentence when he appeared at Taunton Crown Court.

The 36-year-old, of North Petherton, appeared in the dock on Friday (August 16) charged with three counts of making indecent images.

The three counts refer to the different categories of seriousness, but Brentnall had more than 200 illegal files in his possession when arrested by police last year.

The defendant was first brought to police attention after a US investigation found he uploaded images of children to a group chat. the court heard.

British police tracked the IP address to Brentnall and, in October 2018, arrested him and seized a mobile phone, two laptops and an external hard drive.

Across the devices, police discovered more than 160 illegal images of children, from babies up to the age of 10.

There were also 57 movies.

There was nearly an hour of category A - the most extreme material - found on the defendant's devices, the court was told.

Lucy Taylor, prosecuting, said: "Brentnall admitted to using the dark web to view various levels of pornography.

"He admitted to viewing material from infants to 10 year olds, but wasn't surprised to hear there were younger than infants."

She added that Brentnall used Yahoo messenger to send illegal movies, as well as a now defunct site call ChatStep.

The court also heard a statement from the officer responsible for reviewing the material.

The detective constable said: "I have been in this unit for 10 years, and I have not come across a case where the proportion of category A images was so high.

"Despite having viewed indecent images of children for 10 years, and having become somewhat hardened to them, the material I viewed in this case were some of the most distressing things I have ever had the misfortune to see.

"The content was harrowing and likely to remain with me for the rest of my life."

Patrick Mason, mitigating, said that Brentnall had joined the air force around the age of 18 and left March 2013, when he was around 30.

He served in conflicts abroad, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Mason said: "Around 2011 to 2012, he was married with a career. He was serving his country well.

"There are always pressures on service families with lengthy deployment. The decision was made to leave the air force.

"Leaving the service is very stressful and often very hard for people, and his relationship broke down.

"He was estranged from his family and his career had gone."

GPs confirmed that Brentnall had also suffered depressive symptoms for years.

Mr Mason added: "It was against this background, as his marriage was failing, that he started looking at porn.

"He has really fronted up to his behaviour and doesn't seek to minimise anything he did.

"He is horrified by what he has done."

The court also heard Brentnall admitted his offences straight away, pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity, and has started to engage with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation - a charity tackling child sexual abuse which works with offenders.

In sentencing, Judge Paul Cook said to Brentnall: "There were images of babies up to 10 years old … it was truly sickening.

"Every image and film you looked at was peddling the depredation, abuse and suffering of children.

"You are a man of previous good character.

"Your honesty in the pre-sentence report was exceptional, and you were candid with the police.

"You are gradually rebuilding your life and rehabilitating yourself."

Probation officers described Brentnall as a strong prospect for rehabilitation with a low risk of reoffending.

Judge Cook added: "Custody should not be imposed where a suspended sentence could provide sufficient punishment, with rehabilitation on top of that."

The defendant was sentenced to a total of 12 months in prison, suspended for two years.

He was given a rehabilitation activity requirement, is subject to a sexual harm prevention order, and will pay a £140 victim surcharge.

Judge Cook said: "It seems to me that is the best course of action for you.

"If you are rehabilitated, then society is better protected as a result."