A FORMER Labour MP who downloaded and distributed child abuse images has been jailed for more than two years.
Paul Clark, who represented Gillingham in Kent for 13 years from 1997, told police when arrested at his home: "I know why you're here."
He was caught with more than 1,000 stills and movie clips on five electronic devices – showing some of the most serious acts of abuse.
The 66-year-old also joined sexually-explicit chats online, Maidstone crown court heard.
After being arrested at his home by the National Crime Agency in May 2021, Clark told officers: "I know why you're here. I kept telling myself to stop.
During his time as a Labour MP, he was a parliamentary private secretary for high-profile Cabinet members including deputy prime minister John Prescott and education secretary Ed Balls.
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Clark, who at a previous hearing gave an address in Wallington in Surrey, pleaded guilty last December to three offences of making indecent photos of children between April 2013 and May 2021.
The father-of-two also admitted six charges of distribution between October 2020 and May 2021.
Prosecutor Daniel Stevenson told the court none of Clark's offences took place while he was an MP.
But Mr Stevenson said there were two "distinct periods of offending" – with 20 images downloaded in 2013 and the majority seven years later during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
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A total of 298 category A images, 415 category B and 733 category C were found on two iPhones, an HP laptop, a hard drive and Acer computer tower.
The age range of the children being abused ranged from three to 16, Mr Stevenson told the court.
The iPhones contained what Mr Stevenson called "two significant chatlogs" in which Clark discussed the sexual abuse of children in WhatsApp and Kik conversations with two other users identified as "Toni" and "PR".
The court was also told of the sexual terms used in Clark's internet searches.
Ronnie Manek, defending Clark, told the court the ex-MP's life took a "downward spiral" during lockdown and led to his further offending.
Mr Manek said: "Covid hit and played a huge factor. It was a time when the country was in lockdown, and I appreciate it's no justification, but it can affect the mindset of individuals."
Jailing Clark for 28 months, Judge Philip Statman told him the case represented "a tragic fall for someone who had put the community first" – but the offences were so serious, jail was inevitable.
The judge added: "Each of these children is a victim. From the images it is clear they are disturbed by that which is being done to them.
"This is a catalogue of criminal offending, committed for your own sexual gratification.
"It is not just a case of browsing on the internet. This is almost a level of addictive conduct which you pursued and you have a very long way to go in understanding what led you to commit these criminal offences.
"Much has been rightly said about the public service you have performed in the past.
"You put the community first and indeed you have tried your best to continue with issues of a community nature, not just here but in Africa since you lost your seat in 2010.
"It is right too that I emphasise there is no suggestion that any of your offending took place during the time when you were a sitting MP.
"But there is punishment that comes your way on a very different level – the ignominy and public humiliation that your appearance in the dock in the crown court causes you."
The judge said he accepted that the pandemic and his failing marriage may have contributed to his mild depression.
He told Clark: "Possibly because of the job you had, the control you had, the excitement you had in those years both as an MP and after, travelling as you did – that being at home and stuck with difficulties within your marriage may have contributed to the level of depression that you felt.
"I have no doubt as you sit there engaged in this offending, it doesn't go through your mind that you will be caught and be presented before a crown court today."
But Mr Statman insisted he could not spare Clark jail, as his barrister had urged.
The judge said: "These offences clearly pass the custody threshhold and well and truly pass the level which would permit me to impose a suspended sentence order, bearing in mind the aggravating factors I have mentioned."
Clark will have to serve half his sentence and will be subject to signing on the sex offender register for 10 years on release.
He will also be subject to a 10-year sexual harm prevention order and barred from working with vulnerable adults and children.
Clark was supported in court by two relatives, said to be his cousins.
The Labour stalwart was said to have played a key part in the 2005 general election, hosting then-prime minister Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown on a visit to Kent.
Clark was later appointed transport minister in 2008.
After losing his seat two years later, Clarke stood for re-election in 2015 but was again defeated by Conservative Rehman Chisti.
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After leaving the Commons he set up a PR and business management consultancy firm, Gateway Associates.
In 2018, he spoke out about alleged sexual harassment at Westminster, calling for "thorough investigations" and disciplinary processes.
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