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Christopher Neil leaves court in Richmond, B.C., Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Christopher Neil leaves court in Richmond, B.C., Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Former Maple Ridge teacher faces new child porn allegations Add to ...

A British Columbia man who spent five years in a Thai prison for sexually abusing children after an image of his digitally obscured face was reconstructed is facing new allegations that he has viewed child pornography since returning to Canada.

Christopher Neil, a former English teacher from Maple Ridge, B.C., who became known as “Swirl Face” due to the effect used to alter his face on digital images, was arrested in Bangkok in the fall of 2007. He pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting one boy and was later convicted of assaulting another.

While he wasn’t charged under Canadian law, Mr. Neil has been under a series of strict conditions meant to protect children since he returned to the country in September, 2012. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to violating a condition that prohibited him from possessing devices that could access the Internet.

During a hearing related to his sentencing on Wednesday, a Crown prosecutor revealed police had found evidence on Mr. Neil’s laptop that indicated the computer had been used to view child pornography.

Crown counsel Gerri-Lyn Nelson said police seized three devices in August from the house where Mr. Neil has been living in Vancouver. The seized items included a laptop, a Kindle e-reader, and a cellphone, all three of which were capable of connecting to the Internet.

Mr. Neil pleaded guilty in October, but at the time Vancouver police had yet to complete an examination of the seized devices.

Ms. Nelson said investigators discovered evidence of encrypted files, as well as records related to deleted files that appeared to contain videos and photographs of child pornography.

Investigators discovered records related to four specific video files that were viewed on the laptop, three of which had file names that indicated they contained child pornography, Ms. Nelson told the court. The videos themselves were not recovered, she said.

Police also found three temporary files containing images depicting young boys, aged six to 10, performing oral sex, Ms. Nelson said. On the cellphone, police found three images of young girls, aged 10 to 13, which Ms. Nelson said required further investigation.

Ms. Nelson presented the evidence as she asked the court to order a psychiatric evaluation as part of Mr. Neil’s presentencing report, which the judge granted.

“We don’t know a lot about him – we don’t know a lot about his background or his psychiatric or mental-health history,” she said. “The Crown says it’s important in these circumstances to have as much information as possible as it relates to risk or the lack of risk.”

The new child pornography allegations against Mr. Neil have not been tested in court.

Defence lawyer Mark Thompson argued the evidence uncovered by the police didn’t prove anything. Mr. Thompson said the three oral sex photos were thumbnails that could have been automatically saved, for example after a web search. As for the videos, he said the Crown is only relying on their titles.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” Mr. Thompson said. “The Crown doesn’t have evidence, apart from the titles, of what these actually were, when they were viewed, how long they were viewed for.”

The hunt for Mr. Neil began in 2004, when police in Germany discovered several hundred pictures of someone sexually abusing boys. The photographs had been distributed on the Internet, but the abuser’s face was obscured by a swirl. Police were then able to remove the swirl, revealing Mr. Neil’s face, while they traced the images to an IP address to Maple Ridge, B.C.

Interpol launched an international manhunt that eventually located Mr. Neil in Korea, where he was teaching English. He fled to Thailand, where he was arrested. He was released last year and boarded a flight back to Canada.

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