The evidence against the Canadian man charged with sexually assaulting three kindergarten children in Indonesia is seriously flawed but that might not be enough to keep him from having to return to jail the CBC's fifth estate has discovered.
The conviction against Burlington, Ontario's Neil Bantleman has been overturned but was appealed. Bantleman's passport has been seized while he waits for the country's Supreme Court to hear the appeal. The CBC's Conrad Collaco spoke with Mark Kelley, host of the fifth estate about what their investigation learned about the evidence used to convict Neil Bantleman of sexually assaulting children. Click on the image at the top of the page to listen to the interview. you can read an edited and abridged transcript of that interview below.
Q. Neil Bantleman was charged with the worst crimes a person can walk into any prison carrying. What did you learn about the evidence that put Neil Bantleman behind bars in Indonesia?
We poured through extensive court documents. His trial was held behind closed doors. It was done to protect the identities of the children involved but it also meant we didn't know a lot about the evidence used against him. When you look at what the children told police and when you look at what the police came up with there is a real disconnect. For example, one boy said he was assaulted by Bantleman in a secret room. Police looked for that room. They never found it. The boy said Bantleman used a magic stone, a blue potion to numb him before he was assaulted. The police turned the school upside down. The only thing they found was a blender they said was used to mix the potion. Teachers at the school said they used the blender to make smoothies. This was the hard evidence they found. Police were never able to say where the assaults took place.
They said the assaults could have taken place in Bantleman's office. We visited the office. It's made of four glass walls in the middle of the busiest part of the school, steps away from security. The police couldn't find one witness who said they saw the boys in his office.
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What made police continue to pursue Bantleman as a serious suspect despite what you've described as a glaring lack of evidence?
A lot of it had to do with the mother of one of the children. She held a very public campaign in Indonesia. She went on TV shows. She went on a very popular show called Indonesia Lawyers Club where they hash out real life crime stories. She was showing lab test results that she said proved that her then 5-year-old son had contracted herpes as a result of being sexually assaulted.
We asked her for those test results. She provided them. Our investigation uncovered that her son does not have herpes. She contested that. So, we chose a reputable lab in Europe to get a fifth test and that test came back like the others, negative. The boy doesn't have herpes. That's a fact.
What made her hand the tests, key evidence that supported her case, over to you?
She refuses to believe our tests. She says it's our doctors who have misread the evidence. She admitted he has never displayed any signs of herpes, any blisters. She continues to believe her son has been sexually assaulted. She says his behavior has changed. She says she's out to protect her son. There is nothing we could say to get her to change her mind. There is no proof that we uncovered, there is no proof that the police uncovered, that Neil Bantleman was involved in a sexual assault.
Neil Bantleman has received a lot of support from family in Canada and friends in Calgary, where he also taught. How do people in Indonesia perceive the Bantleman story?
We dug into the archives of five different television stations in Jakarta. This was the story of the century, an explosive story. There was a feeling that because Neil Bantleman and his wife were teaching at this prestigious international school that the school was covering up something. It was a sensational story. At the beginning, people made up their minds. It wasn't only Neil Bantleman who was convicted but also teaching assistant Ferdi Tjiong and five cleaners. This idea that there was a ring of pedophiles working in this school, of course it made headlines.
We've heard from the Bantleman family, his wife Tracy, his mother and his brother Guy, as they've experienced shock as he was first charged, fear as he was found guilty then relief as the verdict was overturned. How are the Bantleman's now that the case is being appealed?
Neil Bantleman's future is hanging by a thread. You look at the evidence and think he'll be absolutely acquitted. But I sat down with his lawyer, one of the most high profile lawyers in Southeast Asia. He said 'I've told Neil that I'm still not sure he's going to be allowed to go free. I told him you have to be ready for anything.'
The decision is expected soon. They are in legal limbo. His passport has been revoked. He is a prisoner in Indonesia. He said 'I'm not going let this beat me down' so he's tried to take the high road. But he does look like a man who's had a lot of life drawn out of him. I don't think he could have made it this far without the support of his wife Tracy and the support of the school. That has given him what he needs above all else, hope – hope that he will walk out of Indonesia a free man.
Exclusive: Neil Bantleman speaks with the fifth estate.