A FORMER vice principal of Weymouth College has admitted 20 charges of downloading indecent images of children.

Chris Birkhead, 52, who was the senior designated officer for safeguarding students at the college, pleaded guilty at court to 20 charges of making indecent images. He will be sentenced next month.

New Weymouth College principal Liz Myles said Mr Birkhead’s crime had ‘deeply shocked’ college staff.

She emphasised that Mr Birkhead’s charges related to indecent images stored on his personal laptop. Mr Birkhead was not arrested on site and there was no evidence that his college IT equipment had been used inappropriately.

As soon as the offence was brought to the previous principal’s notice, Mr Birkhead, a married father-of-two, was immediately suspended.

An internal investigation commenced the following day and he resigned from his post shortly afterwards.

Indecent images are graded one to five according to seriousness, with level five being the most serious.

Mr Birkhead was found to have 282 images at level one, 10 at level two, 18 at level three and 50 at level four on his personal computer.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman confirmed that Mr Birkhead had admitted all 20 charges when he appeared in court and that ‘making indecent images’ was the legal term for downloading such images on to a computer.

Mr Birkhead joined the college in January 2009 and worked as vice principal and director of quality and performance before being suspended in June 2011 when the offence came to light and he was arrested. He gave an address of Capstone Road, Bournemouth, when he appeared at the town’s magistrates’ court last week. He will be sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court on November 16.

While Mr Birkhead was not the first point of call for Weymouth College students reporting problems such as bullying and abuse, he was the person ultimately responsible at a senior level for safeguarding students and looking at the cases. Mr Birkhead previously worked as quality manager at Bournemouth and Poole College, from 2002 to 2009.

Requisite checks on Mr Birkhead’s history showed that he had passed the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, said Weymouth College principal Liz Myles.

Mrs Myles, who became Weymouth College principal two-and-a-half months ago, said: “I’m keen to make sure people realise this case has no relation or connection to the quality of learning and experience we provide at the college. I would like to emphasise that the safety and wellbeing of students and staff at this college are our highest priorities, the case has further increased our vigilance.

“As the college did here, we will always act promptly to any concern which could impact on the safety of staff or students.”

She added: “Everyone here is shocked. Some of the staff are deeply shocked. It’s a complete breach of trust from someone in a position of trust.

“The college has done all the things it should have been doing to safeguard students but this has made us particularly vigilant.

“We’re very conscious of anything to do with the safety of staff and students. It’s a very unfortunate incident, which isn’t in any way related to his role in the college in terms of how he functioned day to day.

“I would like to get the court case over and done with so we can concentrate on our role here, which is working with young people and the community to improve life chances and give them the best possible chances we can.”

Meeting held

A FULL staff meeting was held at Weymouth College to inform employees their former colleague would be appearing in court.

Principal Liz Myles said letters would also be landing on the doorsteps of students’ parents today.

She said staff felt ‘very protective of the college and annoyed’ about the position Mr Birkhead had put it in.

Mrs Myles added: “We want to provide reassurance and allay any concerns people may have.

“I’m very happy to speak to anybody who wants to talk to me.”

Key stakeholders have also been made aware of the case involving Mr Birkhead.

Mrs Myles said as often occurs when a safeguarding issue arises, the college is now expecting an Ofsted inspection.