A serial Peeping Tom who broke into a Borehamwood school and secretly filmed girls undressing in a changing room has been jailed for ten years.
Terence Pittman, a handyman from Watford, installed a miniature camera behind a grill in a heating cupboard at Hawksmoor School in Cowley Hill in April last year.
He told police he returned night after night to complete the pain-staking process of installing an elaborate system of wiring, cables and video equipment after breaking in through a skylight on the roof.
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Over 17 metres of cable leading to a water-proofed battery and the camera was discovered when it was spotted on the roof by a vigilant school caretaker.
This led to a joint investigation by Metropolitan and Hertfordshire police who uncovered that Pittman had also set up sophisticated video systems at two more Hertfordshire schools -- St Albans Girls School and Presdales School in Ware -- to film young girls changing.
He set fire to two other schools in St Albans -- Marlborough School and the Catholic all-girl Loretto College -- causing thousands of pounds of damage.
And Pittman even constructed a hide-out in shrubbery on the grounds of Elstree's Haberdashers Askes School to secretly take photographs of girls playing sport, St Albans Crown Court heard on Monday.
Over a seven-year period, the 34-year-old stole video tapes and pictures, featuring pupils involved in various dancing and sporting activities, from tens of schools around the county in order to feed his fantasies, Mr Anthony Pitts, prosecuting, told the court.
Pittman was arrested in June last year when he told police the focus of his offending was his fetish for ladies' underwear and watching young women undress.
Mr Pitts said police had raided Pittman's home and found a "plethora of material" -- hundreds of photographs and videos, some of them stolen from schools.
Sentencing Pittman, Judge Colin Colston QC said: "Behind this offending has been your compulsive desire and need to watch women, or in particular young women in various stages of undress. Children are entitled to expect when they change, that privacy will be observed by those not in the changing room, which are not places where Peeping Toms should be prying."
He added: "At Hawksmoor School the reaction according to the head teacher was one of bewilderment and shock. Many felt violated. They felt extremely angry. Parents will ask `are our children safe?'."
But Judge Colston said that current laws made him powerless to order the confiscation of videos and photographs found at his home, as well as the cameras used by Pittman to spy on girls at Hawksmoor and the two other schools.
Pittman pleaded guilty to six counts of burglary and two of arson and asked for 14 other offences to be taken into consideration, including one burglary where underwear was stolen from a school.
Defending, Richard Kovalevsky, said: "Apart from the indecent photographs, nothing else falls within the definition of sexual offences. The fires were started in order to make it seem as if young children had started them."
Pittman, who also had previous convictions going back to the 1980s, which included thefts of women's underwear from washing lines, was convicted by a jury last month of two charges of taking indecent photographs of a girl under 16.
For those convictions the judge ordered Pittman upon his release to inform police and go on a sex offenders' register indefinitely.
Hertsmere MP James Clappison this week vowed to continue his campaign for a change in the law. The MP said he would press for wider debate on whether current legislation is sufficient to cover offences by people who take such extraordinary lengths to take photos of children.
"I hope that the children will be assured that the authorities want to protect them. I still feel that the charges that were brought were not a reflection of what actually happened.
"I will be looking at every available legislative opportunity to raise the issue," he said.
Speaking after the court hearing, Hawksmoor head teacher Philip Tompkins said the sentence reflected the seriousness of Pittman's offences.
But added: "There is a gap in the law that has to be adressed about the nature of these charges. It's not logical for him to go to prison for ten years and then give him back the photographs relating to his crimes. It's still very hurtful to parents to think there are photographs of their children out there."
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