A solicitor with almost 25 years in practice has been suspended for a year after being found in possession of indecent images.

Michael Anthony Loveridge, who ran his own firm in Clitheroe, Lancashire, accepted a caution in January 2015 after being found with four images and one video of children.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard that the images were of girls aged 14-16 and were of a low category of offence.

Loveridge said he had searched the internet to view pornographic images and had no interest in young girls or children.

He accepted he had visited commercial websites on numerous occasions which advertised themselves as showing school girls or teenagers. It was his belief the girls involved were aged over 18, with the relevant websites containing such a disclaimer.

Loveridge told the tribunal he had not intended to obtain any images featuring anyone under 18, had not paid for any images and had not used the so-called ‘dark web’.

However the tribunal said he had carried the risk of straying into illegal images through the type of website he was accessing.

It added: ‘[Loveridge] was clearly culpable in the sense he was responsible for his use of the internet but the tribunal accepted that he had ”stumbled” into downloading illegal indecent images: finding such images had not been his aim.’

But while the tribunal accepted the offence was at the least serious end of the scale for such matters, it was nevertheless a serious matter.

‘The public would expect a solicitor to be someone who could be trusted to the ends of the earth, and of the utmost probity and integrity,’ it added.

‘Given the huge damage done by child pornography, and the great importance of safeguarding the welfare of children, possession of images of the kind in question in this case could not be dismissed as being in any way minor matters.

‘The respondent’s misconduct had damaged the reputation of the profession, as well as his own.’

The tribunal heard that due to not being able to secure indemnity insurance, Loveridge has had to dispose of his firm and pay run-off cover costs of £40,000.

He has since been able to obtain work as an employed consultant with another firm, which had indicated that it would like to continue to employ him.

The tribunal ruled a one-year suspension was ‘reasonable and proportionate’ given the circumstances of the case and the mitigation.

Loveridge was also ordered to pay £3,000 towards the SRA’s costs.