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Thai court jails 'swirly-face' paedophile

Three years for abusive acts

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A Canadian schoolteacher who was arrested after police appealed for the identity of a man depicted abusing boys on images circulating on the net has been jailed for three years and three months in Thailand.

Christopher Paul Neil, who taught English in several Asian countries, was arrested last October in Thailand after Interpol launched the manhunt. He pleaded guilty to abusing a 13 year-old boy. At a sentencing hearing on Friday he was jailed for more than three years, half the six years and six months he would have received without a guilty plea, and fined $1,780. Neil was led away from court, dressed in an orange prison uniform and wearing ankle chains, to begin his sentence.

The 32-year-old still faces a string of even more serious allegations, including charges that he abused his admitted victim's nine year-old brother.

Neil denies paying the younger sibling between $15 to $30 to perform oral sex on him in 2003. His trial in that case for sexually abusing a minor, videotaping alleged sex acts, and taking a child without parental consent is due to begin on 7 October. If convicted, Neil faces a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment.

Rosalind Prober, president of the Canadian child rights group Beyond Borders, suggested he might also face trail for similar offences in Vietnam. She expressed disappointment at the relatively short sentence Neil received over the admitted abuse of the 13-year-old but noted that this marked only the start of a much longer justice process.

"This is the first, baby step for Christopher Neil in terms of having him held accountable for the international sex crimes he is accused of committing," Prober told AP. "The world will be watching to see if there is the political will to continue on with this case."

Disguised pictures of Neil were found in a cache of 200 child abuse images found on the internet. German police unscrambled an image of Neil's face contained in one of these images which had been digitally "swirled" in an attempt to hide his identity. Interpol published this photo, which led to Neil's arrest in Bangkok Airport days later. Neil was cuffed after he stepped off a plane flying into Thailand from South Korea, where he was working at an English school shortly before his arrest.

In court on Friday, Neil admitted through a Thai translator that he made the offending photos but denied distributing them online. ®

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