British Columbia

Sentencing hearing begins for convicted child sex offender known as 'Swirl Face'

A B.C. man who disguised his face with a swirl in images showing him sexually abusing young boys manufactured child pornography for online distribution, a court has heard.

Neil peaded guilty in December to 5 child sex and pornography charges

In 2007, Interpol identified Christopher Paul Neil as the man in a series "swirly face" photos that had been posted online. The photos allegedly showed a man sexually abusing children, but the face of the man had been digitally altered to conceal his identity. German specialists unswirled the digital images to produce an identifiable picture. (Interpol)

A British Columbia man who disguised his face with a swirl in images showing him sexually abusing young boys manufactured child pornography for online distribution, a court has heard.

Christopher Neil, 41, should be sentenced to five years for child-sex crimes including the offences that catapulted him to notoriety with the nickname "Swirl Face," the Crown told a B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday.

Neil "conceded" to a psychiatrist during a pre-risk assessment that he produced some photographs for online purposes, explaining he thought there was a lack of such material at the time, said Crown lawyer Brendan McCabe.

"I guess he would have thought there wasn't enough child pornography involving young Asian males, and by young I mean prepubescent," McCabe said. "So he took it upon himself to fill that void and place images on the Internet."

But even if a B.C. Supreme Court judge agrees with the Crown's sentencing request, Neil would only serve about 10 months after time he has already spent awaiting trial.

The Crown also requested that he be banned from the Internet for life and serve three years' probation. The judge was asked to ban Neil from visiting places such as parks and community centres, and to impose travel restrictions.

International investigation

The former overseas English teacher from Maple Ridge pleaded guilty in December to five charges, including counts under Canada's rarely used child-sex tourism laws.

They include 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.

Court heard a wide-reaching police investigation overseas and in Vancouver turned up boxes of CDs with thousands of photographs and videos of child pornography. Some were images of Neil and the boys being abused in the Swirl Face pictures.

The two boys were paid by Neil to participate in photographs and sex acts over two days in 2003, in an area known for child-sex tourism near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, court heard.

"They depict Mr. Neil reclined on a bed without any clothes on with young children naked beside him," McCabe said. "Obviously the court can infer Mr. Neil was instrumental in the making of these images."

Investigators later interviewed one of the boys, who said he was 13 at the time. McCabe said court should consider the guilty plea by Neil a mitigating factor because it "goes some way to convey to this court an expression of remorse," McCabe said, adding the victim did not have to endure giving testimony.

High risk for reoffending

Court heard Neil committed new crimes when he returned to B.C. after his early release from a nine-year prison sentence in Thailand for molesting two boys.

When Neil arrived back in Canada he was placed on a peace bond in an effort to protect children and was banned from having a computer.

McCabe said Neil purchased a computer with the help of a convicted sex offender and when police examined it they found child pornography and encryption software. They also found evidence he was communicating with pedophiles about how to access child porn on the "dark web," court heard.

Neil's pre-risk assessment has formally diagnosed him as a pedophile, McCabe told the judge. He said the psychiatrist found the man is at high risk for reoffending with child pornography and at moderate risk for offending against children.

His risk to abuse children rises substantially if he returns to places like Thailand or China, where he would have greater access to potential victims, court heard.

Neil's lawyer was expected to present sentencing submissions later in the hearing.

Neil was arrested on 10 new charges in March 2014, and has been in custody ever since.