(Guardian) A Canadian schoolteacher suspected of sexually abusing young boys across south-east Asia was seized by Thai police yesterday after an international manhunt.
Following a tip-off, Christopher Paul Neil, 32, allegedly seen in 200 images posted on websites abusing boys as young as six, was arrested at a house he rented with a Thai boyfriend in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima.
Thai police drove him the 150 miles to Bangkok and paraded him at a press conference. Officers said he would be charged with molesting underage boys, and faced 20 years' imprisonment.
Interpol detectives said the nine-day operation would serve as a warning to paedophiles that the internet and public revulsion left no hiding place.
The international police agency revealed pictures, apparently of Mr Neil, after German computer specialists used new technology to unscramble them. The pictures had been digitally obscured with a swirl pattern in images showing the abuse of boys in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Within days, Interpol had received 350 calls and messages that established the suspect's name, age, nationality, passport number, occupation as an English teacher, and details of employment.
On the day the pictures were released, Mr Neil abruptly left the school where he was teaching in South Korea. He arrived at Bangkok airport where Thai immigration authorities photographed him, with his head shaved and wearing glasses, setting off a nationwide search.
Police in Bangkok issued an arrest warrant for Mr Neil after a Thai teenager approached them claiming the teacher had abused him several years ago. Mr Neil lived in Thailand, where he was known as Vico, on several occasions between 2002 and 2004 when the alleged images of him abusing the boys were uploaded.
Interpol followed up with a "red notice" international wanted persons warrant, a precursor to extradition proceedings.
Mr Neil was tracked to the house of a 25-year-old Thai transvestite nicknamed Ohm in Nakhon Ratchasima after a trace was put on his mobile. He was arrested yesterday morning, but said nothing except to confirm his name and ask for a lawyer. "The suspect was quiet," said Lieutenant General Pongsapat Pongcharoen, of the Thai police. "He wasn't agitated. He didn't say anything at all."
Mr Neil acknowledged his name and nationality, but would not say whether he was the man pictured in more than 200 photographs having sex with boys as young as six in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, according to police.
He was led through a scrum of media into Bangkok's police headquarters where he sat quietly beside Thai officers, who said he could be held for 48 hours before they charged him or sought an extension from a judge.
Thailand's deputy national police chief, General Wongkot Maneerin, said Mr Neil could be charged with sexually molesting young boys. If convicted he faces 20 years in jail over accusations he paid two Thai boys aged nine and 14 for oral sex.
It later transpired that Mr Neil had been employed by the Canadian military to counsel teenagers on moral issues.
Officials with the Canadian department of National Defence confirmed that Mr Neil had been hired by the Canadian military in the summer of 1997 as a civilian chaplain at HMCS Fort Qu'Appelle, a sea cadet training camp at Fort San.
Lieutenant Carole Brown told the Saskatchewan News Network that Mr Neil was employed at HMCS Acadia at Shearwater, Nova Scotia, during the summers of 1998 and 1999, as well as at the CFB Greenwood air cadet summer training centre in 2000. His duties included spiritual advice for children aged 12 to 18.
Anne Kully, principal of Saint Patrick's School in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, said that in 2000 and 2001 Mr Neil volunteered at the school as part of his training at Christ of the King seminary, where he was studying to become a priest.