A fire-eating magician was found to have a stash of sick child abuse images after he accidentally handed over the evidence to police to help them with another inquiry.
Nigel Hardman, 46, agreed to give officers CCTV taken outside his house in Lychgate, Preston, as they believed they could help them investigate drug dealing.
But when the performer, who previously went by the stage name of Prince Razaq, duly handed over a USB memory stick, officers from Lancashire Constabulary discovered an indecent image of a child was also on the device.
Hardman was arrested and initially claimed the photograph belonged to someone else, telling officers his ex-wife had access to a computer. However, a search of other computer equipment in Hardman’s home revealed 93 indecent images stored on various computers and hard-drives and Hardman confessed to saving the images.
Hardman admitted he had used search terms including “schoolgirl” to track down child abuse images but claimed he filtered the images and if they appeared to show underage children he would not look at them.
Paul Cummings, prosecuting, told Preston Crown Court: “(During his police interview) he was maintaining the view that what he was looking at were legal images of people over 18.
“When the allegation was put to him that they were clearly images of children he began to seek legal advice.” The former entertainer, who also had a sideline driving stag and hen party guests around Blackpool in a 31ft limousine, claimed he could tell the girls’ ages by their appearance and insisted the images he was viewing were of actresses pretending to be younger than they were.
However, he later accepted the 93 images found on computer equipment at his home belonged to him.
Mr Cummings told the court the images – which were categorised from Class A to C, covering the whole range of indecent images under a new classification system - clearly depict underage girls.
Hardman, who once won a talent competition on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast for escaping from a straitjacket while standing on a bed-of-nails, has no previous convictions for sex offences. However came to the attention of the authorities when he was caught defrauding the benefits system of thousands of pounds, claiming he was too ill to work, while working as a sword swallower and fire eater in 2008.
After leaving his job as a civil servant due to alleged workplace bullying, he discovered he had a talent for dangerous forms of entertainment and created the persona of Prince Razaq, dressing as an Eastern fakir – in robes, complete with turban and curly- toed sandals.
He went on to set up a limousine company but that fell by the wayside when he separated from his wife.
Hardman pleaded guilty to 11 counts of making indecent photographs and two counts of possessing indecent photographs at Preston Crown Court.
He will be sentenced on August 1.