A fire-eating magician previously exposed as a benefits cheat was found with a stash of sick child abuse images after he sought to help police investigate drug dealing.
Former Blackpool limo driver, Nigel Hardman, 46, who previously used the stage name Prince Razaq in his role as a daredevil magician, gave officers CCTV taken outside his house.
But the memory stick also contained an indecent picture of a child. When Hardman was arrested he claimed the photograph belonged to someone else, telling officers his ex-wife had access to a computer, but a search of his home uncovered 93 indecent images on computers and hard-drives and he admitted saving the images.
In 2008, Hardman, who ran Warton-based limousine hire company Prince Rasaq Limos Ltd, was found to have fraudulently claimed thousands of pounds in benefits over four years while working in a number of roles, including as a magician who ate fire and swallowed swords.
Preston Crown Court heard that Hardman, formerly of Blenheim Drive, Warton, had admitted using search terms including ‘schoolgirl’ to find child pornography but claimed he filtered the images and did not look at images which appeared to show underage children.
Paul Cummings, prosecuting, said: “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 used to drive stag and hen party guests around Blackpool in his 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.
But Hardman, of Lychgate, Preston, later accepted the 93 images found on computer equipment at his home belonged to him.
Mr Cummings told the court the images – some of which were categorised as the most extreme Class A pictures - clearly depicted 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, had no previous convictions for sex offences.
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 his limousine company but that fell by the wayside when he separated from his wife.
Hardman, who pleaded guilty to 11 counts of making indecent photographs and two counts of possessing indecent photographs, will be sentenced on August 1.