A transsexual who downloaded sickening images of child pornography escaped jail because a judge said prison would be too tough a place for her.
Laura Voyce, 20, who was born a man and used to go by the name Luke, faced being locked up for nine months in a male prison after being convicted of 14 counts of downloading indecent images of children.
Four of the images discovered on Voyce's laptop were of level four, the second most serious, and featured semi-naked youngsters being abused.
But despite this Judge Lesley Newton allowed Voyce, who is in the middle of a sex
change which means she is biologically a man but legally a woman, to walk free with a nine-month jail term suspended for a year. She must also complete 100 hours of unpaid work.
The judge said prison would be an "appalling experience" for the sex offender.
On Wednesday night children's charities reacted with anger to the leniency of Voyce's sentence.
Michelle Elliott, founder of Kidscape, said: "This ruling is absolutely absurd. It sends out entirely the wrong message that this transsexual's feelings are more important than the emotions experienced by the children in these images who have gone through this terrible abuse.
"She should have gone to jail. There should be no special circumstances where child abuse in concerned."
Manchester Crown Court heard how a stash of child porn was found on Voyce's computer by police who searched her home in Withington, Manchester, while investigating another allegation two years ago.
The transsexual, who is engaged to be married, claimed she viewed the sick images of partially-clothed youngsters in an attempt to come to terms with her troubled childhood.
Kay Driver, defending, told the court that her client had suffered "gender insecurities" throughout her youth which had led to her being bullied as well as feelings of isolation and a "disrespect" for her own body, resulting in her being used by other people.
She said Voyce, who now lives in Kirkby, Merseyside, maintained her innocence, but "appreciated the harm these offences cause".
The barrister added that if Voyce was jailed she faced being sent to a male prison and urged the judge not to imprison her.
"She's clearly going to be extremely vulnerable in a male prison environment," she said.
Judge Newton said she was satisfied Voyce had downloaded the images for her own "perverted-sexual gratification", but refused to jail her.
The judge said: "I take these offences very seriously; these are real children who are being abused so that people like you can look at them.
"Frankly, you deserve to go to prison, but I can't bring myself to send you to prison, entirely because I think prison would be an appalling experience for you.
"I do not see how you could be kept safe in a prison environment with the best will in the world on the part of those who run such establishments."
Voyce was told she must sign the Sex Offenders' Register for five years and warned she would be immediately jailed if she fell foul of the law again.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "There is nothing to stop a transsexual from receiving a custodial sentence where a judge deems that to be appropriate.
"Decisions about the location of transsexual prisoners are reached after a full risk assessment and only in the light of all the circumstances of their particular case."- Daily Mail