Teacher Thomas Ball installed spy camera in North Yorkshire school bathroom and had stash of child-sex images
Thirty-year-old Thomas David Ball, who held a senior position at Queen Ethelburga, also downloaded horrific images from the internet of young children being raped, handcuffed and tortured.
The paid day and boarding school is located between York and Boroughbridge.
York Crown Court heard that Ball was “in love” with the student, a teenager who cannot be named for legal reasons.
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Ball “hunted” for social media snaps of the victim and performed “29 separate (Google) searches” for the boy about a month before the Spycam incident, prosecutor Paul Newcombe said.
He said Ball installed the camera he bought on Amazon in a school bathroom.
The boy had just returned from registration when Ball asked him to take a shower. While showering, the boy noticed wires under the sink connected to a spy camera, the lights of which were on to indicate it was active.
Mr. Newcome said the boy trusted Ball enough to give him the camera. Ball then took it away, “no doubt to dispose of (the 15-minute video footage)”.
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The boy, who was suspicious, informed his mother and Ball, who had just been promoted to a role overseeing student welfare and surveillance, and later admitted to the school’s assistant security officer that he had made a “stupid mistake” had made. He gave the camera to an employee.
The school reported the matter to the police, but before the officers arrived, Ball went to his room and told staff that he was “going to pick something up”.
In fact, he tried to “hide evidence” by hiding a second spy camera, tablet and memory stick in his trunk.
On the tray was a cache of disgusting pictures of children, including videos showing the rape and torture of very young children.
Police found Ball’s fingerprints on the spy camera memory card and on the device itself. Even so, he denied being behind the naked boy’s hidden footage and tried to blame other employees.
“Other employees had to be interviewed and questioned,” Newcombe said.
This caused great “stress and anger and disruption in the school,” added the prosecutor.
Police forensic scientists examined Ball’s devices and found that he had searched the internet for spy cameras.
“The defendant bought two spy cameras and an SD card from Amazon in May 2018,” Newcombe said.
The cameras came with “night vision”.
Police discovered the espionage material and retrieved a laptop and hard drive from Ball’s room that contained a supply of indecent pictures of children downloaded using peer-to-peer file-sharing software.
“The pictures were of (mostly) boys aged 10 and over who were sexually assaulted,” Newcombe said.
There were 168 such images, ranging in severity from Category A – the worst kind of such material – to Category C, including photos and videos.
Ball eventually admitted to three instances of taking indecent pictures of children and downloading prohibited images, but initially refused to record covert video footage of the boy, install the camera, and practice voyeurism at school.
He only changed his pleas to guilty about a month before the scheduled trial. The offenses occurred in the summer of 2018.
Ball, from Atherstone, Warwickshire, appeared on jail Wednesday, his teaching career already in tatters.
His lawyer Richard Reed said Ball deeply regretted his behavior.
He said that Ball, a former homeworker, realized that his behavior had “profound” effects on the boy and other workers and was now receiving counseling and psychiatric treatment.
“He has lost any prospect of a career as a teacher or in any form with children and is still unemployed and on psychiatric medication,” Reed said.
Judge Simon Hickey told Ball that his crimes against the “vulnerable” boy were a “gross breach of trust,” adding, “Parents expect their children to be looked after and not spied on and filmed.”
Citing Ball’s “29 separate searches” for pictures of the boy on social media, the judge said the offenses against voyeurism involved “considerable planning and determination.”
He said that although Ball was previously “exemplary” in character, had shown “clear remorse” and character references “show that you have another side”, it could only be an immediate jail sentence for such serious offenses.
Ball has been jailed for 20 months, half of which he will serve behind bars before being released under license. He was also entered on the Sex Offender Register for 10 years and placed under a Sexual Harm Prevention Order to curb his internet activity and limit his contact with children.
North Yorkshire Police Officer Adam Fenwick said: “Thomas Ball was in a trustworthy position of responsibility which he has openly abused for his own gratification.
“When the device was found, he tried to deny all crimes, but thanks to extensive digital evidence, we were able to prove without a doubt that he bought and planted the camera.
“He’s a cold and calculating person who carefully planned and planned his actions. He clearly poses a risk to young people and we hope his conviction will bring the victim and his family some degree of closure. “
A spokesman for Queen Ethelburga’s College said: “In accordance with our strict security policies and procedures, Mr. Ball was reported to the police and immediately suspended. Shortly afterwards, his employment relationship was terminated. The college supported the police in their investigation. “