Thomas Donaghey’s Baxenden vicarage was raided by police last November. He was then was arrested, placed under investigation and suspended by Blackburn Diocese. He had been released on bail until December 2, 2020. Burnley Crown Court heard how the former vicar, who was a reverend at Baxenden St John Church, admitted his guilt to police before any of his devices could even be examined. When police analysed his devices, they discovered 297 category A photos of children – the worst of their kind under law – 468 category B photos and 2,823 category C.
Donaghey also admitted to possessing 46 extreme pornographic images which portrayed in an explicit and realistic way an act which threatened a person’s life.
At Burnley Crown Court on Tuesday (August 31), the 54-year-old was handed a two-year community order, with 40 rehabilitation days, fined £100 and must also serve a five-year sexual harm prevention order.
Prosecuting, Alaric Bassano told the court: “The defendant’s wife was present when he was arrested and was shocked and distraught.
“He was interviewed before the devices were examined and admitted he had been downloading such imagery for about two years.
“He told police that at first, it was just images of naturism, but then this progressed, and he began using search terms such as ‘under age’ and ‘Lolita’, and accessed images from the dark web.
“Donaghey said his actions were more to do with curiosity and fascination than any sexual attraction and he had been overwhelmed with guilt.”
Defending Donaghey, Rosalind Emsley-Smith told the court: “He said he has lost his entire history – everything he was, everything he did, and everything he was known for prior to this is erased and he is now known only for these offences.
“This is a heartbreaking observation and is not all of who he is – he now has to start rebuilding a life for himself.
“He has not asked to know what the likely outcome of this hearing would be as he said he deserves to be punished and would accept any outcome or punishment the court deemed to be appropriate.”
Judge Archer said: “By seeking out these images you were perpetuating the cycle of child abuse.
“It’s not just the downloading, it’s that such downloading and viewing creates a market for such material.”
The Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev. Julian Henderson said in a statement: “The Diocese is dismayed and deeply saddened that one of our clergy has fallen so far short of the standards expected by the Church in this way.
“The Diocese strives to uphold the highest standards in safeguarding policy, training, practice and disciplinary action at all times and actions such as those described during the court case have no place in The Church of England.
“Our safeguarding team was notified when Tom Donaghey was arrested and I immediately suspended him from all ministry duties.
“Donaghey subsequently resigned as Vicar of Baxenden St John and now holds no role in the Church.”
Rt Rev. Julian Henderson concluded: “Following sentencing a Church investigation into his conduct under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) will still take place.
“We have been informed the images involved were downloaded from the internet and do not involve any children Donaghey was in contact within his role as a Vicar.
“The online abuse of children destroys childhoods and devastates society. It is not tolerated by the church.
“We are providing pastoral support where required and are keeping all those affected by the situation in our prayers.”