Ex-minister had indecent images of children on his laptop

A disgraced former Presbyterian minister caught with indecent images of children and who tried to have his identity withheld from publication, has been placed on Probation for two years.

Matthew Simpson (59) whose address until recently remained on court papers as his former manse, but now resides at Fernisky Road, Antrim.

He admitted three counts each of possessing and distributing indecent images of children, with offending occurring between August 2016 and February 2017, while he was minister of two Cookstown churches, Orritor and Claggan.

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Police 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.

Dungannon Courthouse TT0509-JS112

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.”

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 at Dungannon Crown Court, 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 Simpson engaged with another “correspondent” requesting images of a young person and in conversation he adopted a pseudonym.

Judge Sherrard noted 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,”