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Pervert preacher who avoided jail after being caught with child pornography exposed

Matthew Simpson - pictured for the first time - was caught with child pornography and tried to keep his name out of the papers
Matthew Simpson at his door this week

Matthew Simpson at his door this week

Steven Moore

This is the pervy preacher caught with child pornography who tried to keep his name out of the papers.

Matthew Simpson - pictured for the first time here - avoided jail this week at Dungannon Crown Court after a judge told him he could serve a probation order instead.

The 59-year-old from Fernisky Road, Antrim, had earlier this year pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing and distributing indecent images of children, with offending taking place in 2016 and February 2017, while he was minister of Orritor and Claggan Presbyterian churches in Cookstown.

Back in September, at Simpson's first appearance, his lawyers argued for anonymity, contending he could self-harm if publicly named.

However, two psychiatric reports were provided, neither of which found risk to the statutory threshold.

Press challenged the application while the defence insisted Simpson's rights take "precedence and priority" over those of media.

We call at Simpson’s door

We call at Simpson’s door

The judge ruled in favour of press stating: "I'm not satisfied this case warrants diversion from the principle of open justice."

On Wednesday Simpson appeared for sentencing from his solicitor's office where he was told by a judge that his shocking behaviour had "provoked a seismic fall from grace and there has been an exceptionally high price to pay".

On Thursday morning when we confronted the disgraced church leader, he had nothing to say.

When asked whether he felt lucky to be avoiding a prison sentence, he shook his head and said: "No, I've nothing to say to you", before slamming his front door shut.

Twenty-four hours earlier the court was told how the PSNI conducted a search of Simpson's manse and seized a laptop from his study.

Six indecent child images were found, one at Category A and five at Category C.

He was arrested, replying no comment to all questions, but admitted the offences at arraignment before Dungannon Crown Court.

Defence counsel described Simpson as "a man hitherto of impeccable character. Now there is an indelible stain on that character".

He added his client had "a mere handful of images. Offending is at the bottom of the ladder in terms of magnitude and gravity".

Claggan Presbyterian church

Claggan Presbyterian church

It was heard that Simpson adopted an online pseudonym when he engaged with another correspondent to request images of a young person.

A pre-sentence report found Simpson still distances himself to some degree from his offending.

While acknowledging the number of images was low, Judge Brian Sherrard QC pointed out every such image is abusive and the possession and particularly the exchange of such material "perpetuates the exploitation of vulnerable children".

Addressing Simpson, he said: "At the time of offending you were serving as a Presbyterian minister and enjoyed a spotless reputation... your actions have provoked a seismic fall from grace and there has been an exceptionally high price to pay in terms of your career and calling, standing in the community, family life and health.

"But these were self-inflicted, unlike the children who unfortunately and sadly are abused for the purposes of this imagery. The court's primary concern will always be for the welfare of children caught up in this terrible cycle of abuse."

It was heard that Simpson engaged with another "correspondent" requesting images of a young person and in conversation he adopted a pseudonym.

Judge Sherrard noted that this "pointed to culpability".

Risk factors were said to remain and Simpson continues to lack consequential thinking.

"Your offending is of concern to me," said the judge. "I feel a need to reassure the public that this offending will not be repeated or have an opportunity to progress... the protection of the community persuades me you ought to be encouraged in such rehabilitation."

A two-year Probation Order was imposed and Judge Sherrard warned if Simpson failed to fully comply with this he would be returned to court and re-sentenced.

He will remain on the Sex Offenders' Register for five years.

The Presbyterian Church spokesperson said: "It is exceptionally important to be very clear from the outset that on both a societal level and from a biblical position, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland condemns absolutely, and without hesitation, all forms of abuse against children.

"This includes the viewing or distributing of abusive or indecent images, and everything related to it."

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