A CONVICTED Carlisle sex offender kept in Durham Prison since February while he waited for fresh offences to be dealt with told probation staff he did not want to be released, a court heard.

But a judge yesterday freed Peter James Challands, 44, after ruling that the best way to protect the public would be to have him work with the Probation Service.

The defendant, formerly of St Mellion Close, Carlisle, had earlier admitted four offences - failing to comply with Sex Offender Register rules; twice breaching a court order designed to prevent reoffending; and possessing 192 prohibited images of children.

The court heard that one of the offences involved Challands failing to tell police that he had a computer flash-drive device.

When police examined this, they found that it has stored on it 192 images showing sexual activity between adults and children, some judged to be as young as five. They were all animated images rather than real children, the court heard.

Lawyers said it was accepted that the defendant was "vulnerable", and had complex mental health issues.

Challands himself accepted that at times he abused alcohol, and then contacted males via the internet to engage in sexualised behaviour.

Mark Shepherd, for Challands, said: "He clearly wishes to remain in prison and finds comfort within the prison system far greater than he felt in the community."

The lawyer said Challands was a complex individual, who had been diagnosed with a depressive disorder as well as a gender identity disorder. Mr Shepherd added that when lonely Challands drank to excess and then engaged in "risky sexual behaviour."

When released from prison, he would probably live in a hostel for the homeless.

Judge Nicholas Barker said the defendant's collection of obscene animated images - though not real people - were deeply concerning.

Noting that Challands had spent on remand the equivalent of a 14 month jail sentence and that he felt "secure" in prison, the judge said: "Prisons are not there to house vulnerable individuals. They are there as centres of punishment and to control risk."

Judge Barker said jailing Challands would not offer any form of "protective package" to the public.

He imposed a three year community order, with 20 days of rehabilitation and a Sex Offenders' treatment programme. Challands was also given a five year Sexual Harm Prevention Order and put on the Sex Offenders' Register for the same period.