A trans woman found guilty of downloading indecent images of children has been spared jail by a judge who said it would be an “appalling experience” for her.

Laura Voyce, 20, of Kirkby, Merseyside, was convicted of 14 counts of downloading indecent images of children.

Some of the images were classifed as level four – the second most serious. These included semi-naked children being abused.

Voyce faced nine months prison but Judge Lesley Newton said she could not be kept safe and instead imposed a nine-month jail term, suspended for a year, and 100 hours of unpaid community work.

Judge Newton said she was satisfied Voyce had downloaded the images for “perverted sexual gratification”.

But she added: “I take these offences very seriously; these are real children who are being abused so that people like you can look at them.

“Frankly, you deserve to go to prison, but I can’t bring myself to send you to prison, entirely because I think prison would be an appalling experience for you.

“I do not see how you could be kept safe in a prison environment with the best will in the world on the part of those who run such establishments.”

Voyce, who is engaged to be married and currently transitioning from male to female, pleaded not guilty to the offences.

She claimed she viewed the images to help her come to terms with her troubled childhood and gender issues and her solicitor told the court she had developed a “disrespect” for her body, leading to it being used by other people.

The sentence was attacked by children’s charity Kidscape.

Kidscape founder Michelle Elliott told th Daily Mail: “This ruling is absolutely absurd.

“It sends out entirely the wrong message that this transsexual’s feelings are more important than the emotions experienced by the children in these images who have gone through this terrible abuse.

“I do not care whether he is heterosexual, transsexual, gay, lesbian, whatever, she should have gone to jail.”