david turner
David Turner pleaded guilty to importing a child sex doll NCA

Those who buy child sex dolls to act out their "grotesque" fantasies could be just a step away from abusing a real child, a judge has suggested.

Judge Simon James made the comments on Friday (8 September) as he jailed churchwarden David Turner for 16 months after he imported one of the lifelike silicon sex aids.

Turner, 72, of Ramsgate, Kent, also pleaded guilty to possessing more than 34,000 indecent images of children.

His conviction around a month ago had been followed by controversial comments by the head of a paedophile treatment charity, who suggested there shouldn't be an outright ban on child sex dolls because they could help prevent real-life offending.

While she made no direct comment on Turner's case, Juliet Grayson, a psychosexual therapist and founder of StopSo, said the dolls could even be provided to paedophiles on a "prescription" basis alongside carefully managed therapy, mentoring and supervision.

But Judge James said in the case of Turner there was a "very real prospect" these "repugnant" child sex dolls could have led to real-life sex abuse of children.

Speaking during Turner's sentencing at Canterbury Crown Court, he noted the "stepped" process of his offending, which went from downloading indecent images of children to buying the dolls.

"Your deliberate seeking out of items designed to recreate sex with children is, in my judgement, a significant aggravating feature," he told Turner.

"It demonstrates, despite your protestations to the contrary, that having become dissatisfied with watching two-dimensional imagery, you have moved on to seek to act out your grotesque fantasies."

He continued: "The only reasonable conclusion to be reached is that your actively seeking out a way of physically and directly recreating the images found in your possession is indicative that you currently pose a direct risk to children."

Judge James went on to note that his concern over Turner's use of child sex dolls was worsened by the access he had to children while governor of a primary school in Ramsgate.

He said: "I consider that your obtaining of the dolls is demonstrative of a stepped process which provides evidence for the conclusion that there is a very real prospect of your moving on to direct offending."

It comes after StopSo chairman Juliet Grayson had said last month that one paedophile she had treated who had used a child sex doll had said that he was "very happy to use them rather than touching a child".

She added: "If someone comes forward and says, 'I am attracted to young children, and I want help to ensure that I never act on that attraction, so that I never harm a child,' then maybe society should consider the use of dolls in a carefully regulated way.

"Perhaps a 'prescription' for the use of a child sex doll could be given, alongside therapy, mentoring and supervision, [and] could help the individual remain law abiding and fully accountable for their behaviour."

She continued: "This carefully regulated use of child sex dolls might be one way to keep children safe. It feels like dangerous territory, but is certainly worthy of consideration.

"Society needs to reach a point where a teenager can say to his mum, 'I am a paedophile', and she will get him the right kind of help to manage his behaviours in pro-social ways."

Turner's jailing on Friday comes amid a crackdown by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force on the importing of child sex dolls from abroad, with more than 120 seized since March 2016.

The sex aids, often manufactured in Hong Kong or China, can fetch thousands of pounds and have been advertised for sale by traders on websites such as eBay and Amazon.

Grayson's unorthodox approach to reducing child sex offences was not shared by the NSPCC and Barnado's, however.

Following Turner's jailing, an NSPCC spokesperson said: "The importation of these grotesque dolls is an emerging problem and – as in this case – appears to be prevalent among individuals who have amassed indecent images and harmed children through their online activities.

"There is no evidence that these items help potential abusers. In fact, there is a real risk that those who use them could become desensitised and go on to abuse children.

"We're calling on the government to close a disturbing legal loophole and make it a crime to create, distribute or possess these dolls."

Javed Khan, Barnardo's chief executive, added: "We hope the sentencing [of Turner] shines a light on this deeply disturbing trend and sends a stark warning to anyone thinking of buying one of these child sex dolls.

"Evidence from the National Crime Agency shows there's a clear link between these obscene dolls and offences against vulnerable children, including the downloading of indecent images.

"Children need the law's full protection and we welcome further investigations and prosecutions into people who import these disgusting dolls."