A shamed former Tory councillor was caught with images of child abuse after he stole a World War Two artefact from a museum.
Devious Neil Thorneywork, 61, stole a certificate – signed by Sir Winston Churchill – presented to pilot Albert Lowe of the Royal Observer Corps in 1943 for his bravery in the war.
The curator and former stock broker said he nicked the £500 piece after being sacked by the Broadway Tower Museum near Evesham, Worcestshire, and found himself struggling to pay his mortgage.
And when officers went to arrest Thorneywork at his home, they saw him mouth to his wife to get rid of “the USBs”.
Police then found “tens of thousands” of indecent images on his computer, including many featuring children.
Thorneywork was handed a one-year jail sentence suspended for two years after admitting theft and fraud in February.
But incredibly, he was allowed to walk free when he appeared back in court just three months later.
Judge Nicolas Cartwright told Thorneywork the children on the images he had were victims of abuse.
“Think how anyone would react if their wife, as a girl, their sister, their mother or their daughter, was abused to satisfy the demand of people like you,” added the judge.
But he declined to jail Thorneywork despite him admitting to 25 counts of possessing indecent images including some of girls as young as 11.
The judge said the defendant would likely serve “only a few months” in prison and would not get the help he needed to address his deviant interest.
Niall Skinner, defending, said Thorneywork had previously been of good character, worked hard all his life and was married with grown-up children.
He was “embarrassed” at being caught with the images.
The exhibit Thorneywork stole has never been found.
And during his first hearing, the court heard how the heartless fraudster stole another artefact – a bomb powder indicator from the Cold War – and even had the cheek to sell it back to the museum for £1,250.
Thorneywork’s receipt was later found to be bogus.
Annette Gordon, managing director of Broadway Tower military museum, said at the time: “We are sad to have seen that criminal activities have been conducted by someone in a position of trust and we are naturally very shocked.
“We are saddened by the extent of the activity and that the stolen document has not been returned.
“People donate to us in good faith to preserve the memories of their loved ones. It’s not about money or financial gain.”
It is believed Thorneywork was at the museum for around five years.
He was elected as a Conservative councillor for Bromsgrove’s Catshill Ward in the May, 1983, local elections, garnering 1,101 votes.