A RETIRED civil servant attempted to engage in 'disgusting' sex chats with underage girls and had indecent child abuse images.

Former Foreign Office worker Peter Manser, of Abbey Road, Malvern, had already admitted a string of sexual offences when he appeared at Worcester Crown Court on Friday to be sentenced.

However, the 84-year-old was spared jail because of his early guilty plea, lack of previous convictions and the steps he had taken to address his offending.

His health problems and the difficult regime in prisons, which includes spending up to 23 and a half hours in a cell during the coronavirus pandemic, were also taken into consideration.

The pensioner admitted three counts of making indecent images of children – 11 at category A, the most serious level which shows serious sexual activity involving children, five at category B and 40 at category C.

He further admitted possession of seven extreme pornographic images and four attempts to engage in sexual communication with children online.

A search warrant was executed at the pensioner’s home on July 4, 2017, and computer equipment including computer towers and a memory stick were seized for analysis.

As well as the indecent images, Manser had peer-to-peer software which allows the downloading and sharing of material.

The children in the indecent images were aged between three and 14 years.

Michael Aspinall, prosecuting, read out a series of file names and search terms used by the defendant.

Manser's online relay chats included 512 conversations and 9,445 lines of text of a sexual nature. The defendant using several user names. He was communicating with other mIRC users who gave female names and ages under 15.

Mr Aspinall made clear that it could not be established whether the people the defendant was communicating with were actually underage girls, which is why the four charges were all categorised as 'attempts'.

The defendant attended a voluntary interview on July 4, 2017.

“He said he had never acted on his urges and had not abused a child himself,” Mr Aspinall said.

Sam Lamsdale, defending, said Manser’s three adult children were in the court’s public gallery to support their father. The city solicitor said it had been ‘incredibly difficult for them’.

Mrs Lamsdale said Manser had engaged both with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity devoted to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused, and a psychotherapist and had been assessed by the probation service as a 'low risk of reoffending'.

Her client suffered from a series of health problems including COPD, hypertension, high blood pressure and diabetes and also had to self-catheterise twice a day after being diagnosed with prostate cancer 12 years ago.

She referred to the impact of a custodial sentence on a man with his health problems during the coronavirus crisis where inmates can spend up to 23 and a half hours in their cells.

Mrs Lamsdale said: “He suffers shame. His remorse is tremendous. He comes across as a very nice, pleasant man to deal with who is full of shame and humility and embarrassment. He’s quite dumbfounded his children stand by him.”

Judge James Burbidge QC sentenced Manser to 12 months in prison suspended for 12 months, describing his behaviour as ‘disgusting and criminal’.

Manser must register as a sex offender for 10 years. He was told by the judge: “If I thought there was any risk to the public, immediate imprisonment would have to follow.”

The judge also imposed a 10-year sexual harm prevention order which restricts Manser’s use of electronic devices and and the internet and his contact with children.

The defendant must also complete 40 rehabilitation activity requirement days to focus on addressing his sexual behaviour and develop 'healthy thoughts and behaviours’.