A vicar addicted to child porn was put behind bars for 12 months today  by a judge who told him: "Your dark secret is now out."

The secret double life of Rev Ian Hughes was revealed during Merseyside police investigations into internet users exchanging indecent images of children by peer to peer file sharing software.

His internet address was linked to a large quantity of such images and police raided his home at the vicarage in Brougham Road, Wallasey, last year.

They seized his three computers and subsequent examination revealed more than 8,000 indecent images in all categories of seriousness, said Miss Jayne Morris, prosecuting.

When arrested he said, "It's a relief in a way, it is like an addiction." When interviewed he admitted looking at images of boys and said he had been attracted to teenage boys since he was a teenager and that since joining the church he had struggled with his sexuality.

Hughes admitted obtaining pleasure while looking at the images but while looking at them thought of it "just like a film and wasn't real."

But Judge David Aubrey, QC, told him, "Nothing in the court's judgement could be further from the truth. Each film, each image depicted a young child being abused and exploited.

"You by viewing and down loading such images for your own sexual gratification are perpetuating that abuse. It is quite apparent you have an unhealthy interest in pre-pubescent boys and displayed such interest in the isolation of your vicarage.

"The court accepts such interest was confined to your vicarage but it was totally incompatible with your position of trust.

"You presented yourself as a man of piety and respectability but you led a double life by having a pre-occupation that the court has heard of and engrossing yourself in material of child abuse and depravity.

"Your dark secret is now out."

Hughes had pleaded guilty to 15 charges of making indecent images and movies, one of possessing 8,227 indecent images and one of possessing an extreme pornographic image.  835 of the images, including 220 movies, were included in the two most serious categories.

The judge pointed out that a pre-sentence report made reference to him having downloaded and viewed such material since 2008 and exchanged such images, but he was not before the court for distribution offences.

He said that Hughes' sister had written a poignant and moving letter on his behalf and spoke of how he embarked in research following being outstanding in education and then followed his vocation into the church.

He did voluntary work in Africa and had been priest in charge since 2006, was governor of a local school and was described as caring and sensitive.

"Your sister also speaks of your childhood, others speak of your leadership qualities and the help and inspiration you brought to so many but you have fallen from grace and now lost your calling and ministry as a result of your resignation.

"By doing what you did you were betraying your religion, your church and your parishioners. Far more significantly you were betraying those who were depicted in the images you were possessing."

Judge Aubrey said that his sister spoke of his demons having been revealed. "To your credit you have shown considerable remorse, shame and recognition of the harm you have caused."

He concluded, "You must atone for what you have done." As well as jailing him he ordered him to sign on the Sex Offenders Register for ten years and imposed a Sexual Offences Prevention Order for the same length of time.

46-year-old Hughes, who was Priest-in-Charge of St Paul’s in Seacombe and St Luke’s in Poulton, both Wallasey, was suspended by the Bishop of Chester immediately after his arrest last year and has now resigned.

Peter Killen, defending, said: "The concepts that brought him here today are deep-seated and complicated.

"It is clear the defendant repression of sexuality has played a part in introducing him to the desperate and depraved world of parts of the internet."

He continued that it was also clear that he "had taken to leading a desperate double life. On one hand he was a successful parish priest carrying out all the duties expected of him to a very very high standard and to the advantage of literally hundreds or thousands of people in Halton and then Wirral at Seacombe and Poulton.

"He worked on Merseyside ships, set up food banks and worked in disadvantaged communities."

Mr Killen said that on the other hand alone at night time he committed the offences for which he has to be dealt with.

"His journey to that arena was his way of dealing with his own repressed sexuality and continued to live as a celibate gay man for very many years."

BISHOP: 'Deep shock'

After the hearing a statement was issued by the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, saying: "Ian Hughes' court appearances and sentencing have come as a deep shock to all who know him.

"His actions have been totally unacceptable for a Christian minister and his case will now be considered by the disciplinary procedures of the Church.

"I would like to express my profound regret and on behalf of the Church of England to offer my apologies especially to the parishioners of Poulton and Seacombe in Wallasey.

"They have been badly let down.

"Fortunately, incidents such as this are rare.

"I hope that it will serve as a reminder to all clergy both of the high standards which are rightly expected of Christian ministers and all the new dangers posed by our digital and internet age."