A MAN described in court as a "modern-day Benny Hill" has convinced top judges he was unfairly convicted of downloading images of children being spanked - because he thought they were adults.
George Steen, 65, has always insisted that he believed the "sexy images" of buttock striking, found on his laptop as he returned to the UK from Thailand, contained no children.
Steen, of Greenbank Road, Darlington, had been found guilty by a jury of nine counts of making indecent images of children and one of importing them at Teesside Crown Court, and handed a community order in January, last year.
But three senior judges at London's Appeal Court yesterday (Thursday, June 12) quashed those convictions, ruling that incomplete directions by the trial judge meant they "cannot be confident" the guilty verdicts were safe.
Lord Justice Elias said that Steen was returning from Bangkok in July, 2010, when he declared to customs at Heathrow Airport that he had snaps of girls aged 19 or 20 on his laptop.
Officials discovered an encrypted file containing still images and videos of what appeared to be "children being spanked" - triggering the charges of making and importing indecent material.
In interview, Steen accepted saving "sexy images", but insisted that he thought they featured adult models and that he unknowingly saved some of children in "bulk downloads".
At his trial, his lawyers argued his predilection was for adult spanking and he believed those in the pictures had been dressed to look like children.
Felicity Gerry QC, appearing for Steen yesterday, argued that his convictions should be overturned because the trial judge gave no proper directions to the jury about his state-of-mind with regard to the ages of those in the pictures, focusing instead on the issue of whether jurors themselves believed those captured were under 18.
Crown lawyers contended that it was clear Steen was looking for images of children from the sites he had visited, including "DirtySchoolGirls.com" and "PunishBrats.com".
Lord Justice Elias, sitting with Mr Justice Burnett and Judge Nicholas Cooke QC, quashed those convictions, but ruled that the same grounds of appeal could not apply to two further convictions Steen received for possessing indecent images of children, relating to 12 snaps found on another computer after his laptop was seized.
Miss Gerry told the court that Steen's community order had to be drastically cut, as the remaining counts related to images he had kept despite having no interest in them.
She said: "He is somebody who, if you like...is a modern-day Benny Hill - spanking images he seeks, images of children he had."
Lord Justice Elias ruled that Steen's sentence should be quashed and replaced with a 12 month conditional-discharge.