SHAMED former council chief Kenneth Leadbeater has escaped a jail sentence for downloading child porn.

The former leader of Dartford Council has been given a three-year community rehabilitation order, a three-year sexual prevention order and put on the sex offenders' register for five years.

Leadbeater pleaded guilty to 14 charges of making indecent images of children at Dartford Magistrates' Court in June.

Appearing at Maidstone Crown Court for sentencing today, he was told by Judge Michael Lawson many people felt "revulsion" at what he had done.

The judge told the 50-year-old: "You have led a life of public service. It is perfectly clear those who have come into contact with you during that period, during your public life, have the highest regard for your qualities.

"You have admitted charges which cause revulsion in many people and it is your misfortune the publicity which attended this.

"You will leave this court with a stain on your character but you have time to redeem yourself and find other ways to relieve yourself in times of stress."

The court heard this morning how the former Tory councillor had accessed and downloaded child porn from three different internet sites.

Prosecutor Tanya Robinson told how Kent police visited Leadbeater at his home in Watermill Way, South Darenth, on February 13.

He had been traced through credit cards he had used to access the three sites, which displayed indecent images of children.

Officers seized two laptop computers and a base unit from a personal computer. From these they later found more than 300 indecent images.

When questioned, the 50-year-old admitted accessing the sites but said he did not know it was illegal to view photographs of naked children.

Leadbeater also admitted performing a sex act while viewing some of the images.

He told police he found children aged between 14 and 18 "beautiful" although they would be too immature for him to consider having a relationship with.

Helen Curtis, mitigating, told the court Leadbeater had accessed the images at particularly low points in his life. One such time was when he split from his long-term partner in August 2003.

She said: "The probation service has pointed out this was a voyeristic activity. There's no evidence of contact with a child.

"There's no evidence of any sophisticated storing of collecting of this material or sharing or distributing.

"Mr Leadbeater has given two decades of dedicated service to his local community and is really lauded by those who know him.

"It's a source of huge remorse Mr Leadbeater found himself party to criminal proceedings."

The defence requested Judge Lawson not apply an order banning him from using a computer so he can look for jobs on the internet.

She continued: "Mr Leadbeater lives alone, withouth the access of a car and is now in receipt of benefits rather than a salary. He would like to secure employment and the internet is a route to do that."

Under the terms of the community rehabilitation order, Leadbeater will have undergo a work supervision order where he will work with probation officers and other offenders.

The sexual prevention order means public protection officers can visit his home at any time and examine any equipment capable of viewing illegal images.

He was also ordered to pay £245 costs.

Police pleased

Welcoming the sentencing, investigating officer Detective Constable Peter Wakerly said: "This was part of ongoing inquiries into internet-related crime involving child abuse images. Kent Police is committed to dealing vigorously with this type of offence.

"Not only will Mr Leadbeater have to sign the sex offenders' register, he is also subject to a sex offenders' prevention order and to a 36-months community rehabilitation order."

Kenneth Leadbeater statement

Speaking outside court, Leadbeater thanked friends and colleagues for their support over the past six months.

He said: "I am very relieved that these proceedings are ended. I am delighted that I will be able to attend the opening of Dartford Football Stadium for which I fought politically to secure adequate funding.

"I have had the most fantastic support from friends and colleagues from all over the world. In some cases, people who have not been in touch with me for a number of years.

"There has been amazing letters of support and references before the court, some of them from people who are quite well known.

"I did not realise how much my friends regarded me.

"It's been an interesting six months and I am sure you will agree I look more rested and healthy now than six months ago when I was overstretched and overworked.

"I hope to remain in rude health."

Children exploited

Present Dartford Council leader Councillor Jeremy Kite has reacted to the sentencing.

He said: "My thoughts today are not with Mr Leadbeater, they are with the victims of child exploitation who are robbed of their childhoods by these unlawful websites.

"However many miles away they are or however anonymous they are made to appear by the internet, the children exploited on these websites are really people who have a right to be safe, to be valued and have their lives and rights respected.

"As soon as the extent of the allegations became clear I asked Mr Leadbeater to step down from his post and told him he was not fit to serve as a councillor.

"He has let us all down and it was crystal clear to me that he should go and go quickly."

Cllr Kite declined to comment on Leadbeater's hopes of attending the opening of Dartford Football Stadium on November 11 as did Dartford FC coach Dave Skinner who said it was the council's decision.