A MAN from Ashburton has been cleared of downloading child abuse images after he claimed his phone had been hijacked by a drug dealer.

Corey Wade’s Apple iPhone was seized by police when he was arrested for a completely different offence which was later dropped.

Specialists found 30 indecent images on it which had had been downloaded from the internet.

He was interviewed after the results of the analysis came back and explained that he often gave his phone as collateral to dealers when he could not pay for drugs on the spot.

He also told police that he lived in a house of multiple occupation in Ashburton and that other residents sometimes used the phone without his knowledge.

Wade, aged 27, now of no fixed abode, denied two counts of making, by downloading, indecent imaged of children and was found not guilty by a jury at Exeter Crown Court.

The jury had earlier sent a note asking if there was clear evidence of who was in control of the phone at the times that the images were accessed and told that there was not.

Mr Herc Ashworth, prosecuting, said the phone was seized by police on February 23, 2020, in connection with an unrelated inquiry that did not result in a prosecution.

During a forensic examination 21 still images showing penetrative sexual activity with children were found along with nine showing less serious abuse. They had all been downloaded between February 16 and 20.

A virtual private network app and the Onion router were both installed on the phone, both capable of hiding the IP address where it was being used.

The images were all in the recently deleted section of the picture gallery.

There was evidence of searches or site visits to web addresses such as Lolita Teen, Young Girls Collection, Hardcore Incest and Daddy’s Desire.

Wade was interviewed about the images on June 29, 2021, and on being told what was on the phone he replied: “**** off. What the actual ****.'

He told police he had often given the phone to dealers when he did not have cash to pay for drugs and redeemed it when he was able to pay.

He also said others at the house where he was living in Ashburton had access to the phone.

Wade did not give evidence but defence barrister, Miss Emily Pitts, told the jury they could not be sure he was in control of the phone when the images were downloaded.