A POLICEMAN who was caught with a horrific haul of images of toddlers being sexually abused has dodged a jail sentence.

James Paul, 38, kept the banned filth, which included pictures of children being bound and raped, on a computer and a USB stick at his home in Bishopton.

The disgraced officer, who has two young daughters, was suspended from his job as a constable with Police Scotland and has since resigned from the force.

A three-year Community Payback Order was imposed on Paul at Paisley Sheriff Court today.

Detective Inspector Tom Carty, from the Paisley-based Public Protection Unit, said Paul's appearance in court is a sign that “no-one is above the law."

He added: "If you are engaged in criminal activity at the expense of young children, you can be assured we will use every resource at our disposal to find you and hold you to account for your crimes.

"You may think you can hide behind your computer and take precautions to conceal your identity but that is simply not the case. Working alongside our partners, we will continue to target anyone who is involved in this abhorrent activity and be assured, we will find you."

Paul previously appeared in the dock to plead guilty to being in possession of indecent images of children.

He admitted breaking Section 52A(1) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 by having a total of 38 files spread across two devices at his home on December 6 last year.

The court heard colleagues searched his five-bedroom detached home after receiving intelligence that indecent images of children were being stored there.

Six officers raided the property at around 8.15am and seized computer equipment.

They found 33 images on a laptop and a further five on a USB stick.

Five of the images found on the laptop were categorised by experts as being the most extreme form of child abuse images there is, involving sex between children and adults, animals and sadism.

One image showed a three-year-old girl with her wrists bound together, tied to a bed.

Sentencing had been deferred until today for Paul to be assessed by social workers and he returned to the dock to learn his fate.

Sheriff Susan Sinclair had read reports from the social work department and a worker from Stop it Now! – an organisation which aims to reduce sexual abuse of children.

After hearing that Paul had been assessed as "low risk" of re-offending and that his risk could be managed in the community, she spared him prison but warned he could be jailed if he fails to comply with the punishment he was given instead.

Sheriff Sinclair told him: "You have lost your employment and jeopardised your family life.

"You are a first offender. An alternative to custody is available."

She placed Paul on a Community Payback Order, telling him he has to complete the Moving Forward, Making Changes course, which helps sex offenders change their ways.

He was also placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for three years and told to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work in the community.

Sheriff Sinclair added: "This is a challenging disposal. Breaching it is a serious matter and that will result in imprisonment."

Paul also had limits placed on his online activities, being banned from contacting anyone under the age of 17 online and being told he can only own internet-enabled devices if approved by his supervisors.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "We are aware of the outcome of the court proceedings. The man is no longer a serving officer."