A PROMINENT Chester GP has avoided an immediate prison sentence after being caught with almost 17,000 indecent images of children on his computer.

Anthony Kenmore Bland, 62, also admitted pretending to be a teenage girl on social media in order to encourage another to pleasure herself.

Chester Crown Court heard he was a highly respected doctor in the city and led the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) in developing elderly care.

But he also harboured a “dark and horrible secret” having amassed a huge collection of illegal photos over a period of 10 years.

Bland was caught after police were alerted to child-related search terms being used on a computer that was traced to him.

Officers raided his family home on Ormonde Road in the city on January 26 last year and discovered a huge stash of indecent images on five devices.

The collection of 16,936 images and movies related to children aged between six and 15.

It also included 45 of the most serious category A, of which 11 were video files up to an hour long of children being raped and abused.

Sentencing, Judge Simon Berkson said he was willing to suspend the 20-month prison sentence for two years as he believed Bland could be rehabilitated.

But he also made him the subject of a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO), aimed at protecting youngsters, and ordered him to sign on the sex offenders register for 10 years.

The judge said: “You have brought shame on your family and on your profession.

“You kept a dark and horrible secret. You spent a lot of time viewing indecent images of children on your computer.

“Every one of those children is a victim of sexual abuse, abuse perpetrated because people like you are prepared, and want, to view these images.”

He added: “Your reputation is in tatters and you are now a convicted sex offender. You have brought all of this on yourself.”

Bland pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges, five of which related to indecent images and cartoons of children, one to possessing extreme pornography including bestiality, and one final count of attempting to incite a girl aged 13 to 15 to engage in sexual activity.

He will have to participate in a sex offenders programme as a condition of his suspended sentence, and was also ordered to pay court costs of £800.

Peter Hussey, prosecuting, said Bland was interviewed by police on three occasions after the search warrant was carried out.

“He claimed he received no sexual gratification [from the images] and that he had no sexual interest in children whatsoever,” Mr Hussey said.

Bland initially stated he believed the social media chat with the teenage girl was “role playing” with another adult, the court heard.

He later pleaded guilty to all counts at a preliminary hearing at the crown court in January this year.

Police analysts reported that there were many more files on his computer but with almost 17,000 images discovered they stopped searching, Mr Hussey said.

Richard Pratt QC, defending, said Bland was of previous “outstanding” character and was highly regarded in the community and within his profession.

A number of letters of support had been sent to the court by the defendant’s colleagues, patients and family members describing him in glowing terms.

A medical director described him as “one of the natural leaders or our generation in Chester and one of a very small number of GPs who could be called on to fill shifts at short notice so the service could remain safe”.

Another colleague said Bland was “always ready to go the extra mile for his patients”.

He was a prominent voice in elderly care in the city and held positions in the local healthcare system, including the CCG.

Bland also wrote his own letter to the court.

“It is not only articulate, but it is also heartfelt,” Mr Pratt said. “The shame that he has brought on his family members is for him overwhelming.”

The barrister also stressed there was no suggestion that the offending had ever been linked to Bland’s work as a doctor.

“There’s absolutely no suggestion here that his proclivities, or interest in this material, in any way impacted on his practices as a doctor,” he said.

The defendant was a “loving and caring husband, and devoted father” who had been “hard-working and dedicated throughout his professional career”, Mr Pratt told the court.

Bland, who worked for a city centre surgery, will never practise as a doctor again.