VANCOUVERÂ – Canadian Christopher Neil who was arrested in Thailand and subject of an international manhunt for allegedly posting his sexual assaults of children online after hiding his face behind a digital swirl has been sentenced to 5 1/2 yearsÂ after pleading guilty to five child-sex crimes that occurred over a 10-year period in Cambodia and Canada.
The Crown had recommended a five-year sentence.
Justice John HarveyÂ of the British.Columbia’s Supreme Court said the two boys shown in the images were victimized when photos were taken and when those images wereÂ posted on the Internet.
“Mr. Neil himself was a participant in some of the images of child pornography and therefore was instrumental in the children’s victimization,” he said.
“Mr. Neil posted the images taken of John DoeÂ 1Â and John Doe 2 onto the Internet, thus further victimizing them each time those images were subsequently viewed.”
Outside court, Neil’s lawyer said the punishment was harsher than his client had hoped.
“But that’s the way it is sometimes,” Mark Thompson said. “He’s saidÂ also he’s making a concerted effort to get treatment to change. He told everybody that asked … that he was remorseful and we’ll go by his word on that.”
Thompson hadÂ asked for a sentence of time served, arguing further incarceration wouldn’t help withÂ Neil’s rehabilitation or reintegration.
Neil initially faced 10 charges including producing images in Cambodia.Â He pleaded guilty in DecemberÂ toÂ two counts of sexual interference in Cambodia in 2003, one charge of possessing child pornography in Maple Ridge in 2007 and two charges of accessing child pornography in Vancouver in 2013.
The sentencing concludes an investigation thatÂ began in 2004Â and spanned two continents.Â Some of the convictions come under Canada’s rarely used child-sex tourism laws.
Twelve years ago, German police discovered obscured images of a man sexually abusing two young boysÂ in a hotel in Cambodia. Experts unscrambledÂ his blurred faceÂ in 2007, prompting a global manhuntÂ of a man theÂ international mediaÂ dubbed “Swirl Face.”
NeilÂ was arrested in Thailand and jailedÂ almost five years for molesting two boys on unrelated charges,Â before returning to Canada in 2012 on an early pardon.
But Neil was not prosecuted for the notoriousÂ images until Canadian investigators built new evidence against him.
He was jailed in 2014 after breachingÂ ordersÂ prohibiting him fromÂ possessing a laptop. Vancouver Police subsequently discovered child porn and matched the evidence with thousands of images seized from Neil’s family storage locker and that set offÂ theÂ investigation in Cambodia.
Investigators with B.C.’s Integrated Child Exploitation Unit tracked down one of the victims, who said he was about 13 years old at the time.
In sentencing Neil, Harvey read a statement from the boyÂ where heÂ revealed he kept the incident to himself.
“Had I told anyone, I would have been ashamed of myself,” the boy said inÂ the statement.
“It’s been over 10 years and I feel much less of a burden and it’s water under the bridge. The day the police knew about it, they gave me my own picture. I felt very sad.”
Neil was also sentenced to three years’ probation and anÂ international travel prohibition. He is banned for five years from using electronic devices capable of accessing the Internet. He will be nationally registered as a sex offender and is barred from visiting places like parks and community centres.
Brian McConaghy, a former RCMP forensic scientist who gathered keyÂ evidence in Cambodia, said the judge’s decision to lengthen Neil’s sentence is a step in the right direction.
“The judge did a good jobÂ today of addressing the gravity of what has been done to defenceless children overseas who do not have the social services available that children have here,” said McConaghy, who runs the Ratanak International, a charity that works with former child-sex victims.
By Tamsyn Burgmann – The Canadian Press