London : Two Boots photo lab technicians who copied hundreds of pictures of naked or semi-naked schoolgirls from customers' orders escaped jail on Tuesday.
Thomas Befroy and Alan Hermon hoarded the pictures of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 in a hidden compartment in the lab.
Their collection of more than 1,000 photos, built up over 12 years using a machine in the store, included snaps of teenage girls on holiday or in their bedrooms dressing up before a night out with friends.
The pair were only caught when a phone engineer discovered their stash in eight carrier bags and two boxes. While many of the snaps were innocent shots of teenage girls, a selection used to prosecute 38-year-old Befroy and Hermon, 49, were classed by police as "Level One" — depicting nudity or erotic posing but no sexual activity.
One photograph was classified "Level Two", which involves sexual activity between children. Police have been unable to identify the girls in the pictures.
A judge spared the pair jail, handing them both three-year supervision orders and said they must attend a community sex offenders group.
"I am concerned about the number of photographs, the length of time and the covert and secretive behaviour that was going on as well as the breach of trust," said District Judge Stewart Black. "These are serious matters, frankly."
James Le Grys, prosecuting, told Tower Bridge Magistrates in London of the moment a BT engineer discovered the stash as he installed a new phone line at the store in Surrey Quays, South East London.
"The engineer placed his hands inside [a cupboard] and found several Boots carrier bags," he said. "They contained images of a sexual nature. He reported the images to management and they called the police.
"A number of photographs were of young women under the age of eighteen and dating between 1997 and 2008. The collection got so big they had to store it in the cupboard. There is one of ‘Level Two'."
The two defendants started work in the photo-lab at the back of the Boots store in 1989. Befroy had been promoted to team leader and moved to a Boots branch in Battersea, South West London, shortly before he was caught. When questioned by police he initially told them Hermon was responsible for making the copies.