The Fine Gael spokesperson for Justice has criticised the leniency of the sentence handed down to Ballymaloe chef, Tim Allen, who was convicted today of possessing pornographic images of children.

The Judge substituted a nine-month suspended sentence for a 240-hour community service order after Mr Allen agreed to make a €40,000 contribution to the Edith Wilkins Foundation charity for street children in India.

Mr Allen will have his name placed on the Sex Offenders' register and must report any change of address to the gardai for the next five years at least.

John Deasy said it demonstrated a class distinction in the justice system and said anyone else convicted of a similar crime would undoubtedly have ended up with a jail sentence, if they did not have the means to pay such a fine.

Earlier, the court heard that almost a thousand pornographic images of children, some as young as five years old, were recovered from computers which were seized from his home and his cookery school last May. 92 of these images were printed or had been stored on discs.

Mr Allen, 52, who was at the court with his wife Darina and their four children, told the court he was horrified by what he had done.

Judge Patwell said the fact that children had been exploited for sexual gratification was an obnoxious element of this case, and also described some media coverage ahead of the trial as deplorable.

Paul Gilligan of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said the sentence did not reflect the seriousness of the offences and sent out the wrong message.

He also called for a child protection investigation to be conducted into every person convisted of being in posession of child pornography.