B.C. teacher sentenced to 3 years for sexual abuse of Thai boy

A British Columbia teacher who admitted he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy in Thailand and photographed the offence was sentenced Friday to three years and three months in a Thai jail.

Arrest came after police unscrambled digital swirl that hid face in sex photo

A British Columbia teacher who admitted he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy in Thailand and photographed the offence was sentenced Friday to three years and three months in a Thai prison.

Thai prison guards escort Canadian Christopher Paul Neil at criminal court in Bangkok on Friday. Neil was sentenced to three years and three months in jail in Thailand. ((Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press))

Christopher Paul Neil, 33, of Maple Ridge, B.C., who worked as a teacher in different parts of Asia before his arrest last October, avoided a possible six-year, six-month sentence by pleading guilty in May. He was also sentenced to pay a fine of  60,000 baht, or about $1,700 US.

"OK," was Neil's only comment to reporters after the verdict was read. His interpreter said Neil, dressed in a prison uniform and wearing ankle chains, would not appeal.

During the trial, Neil admitted that he took the photos, but said he did not post the pictures online.

He pleaded not guilty in early June to similar charges involving the teen's brother, who was nine years old at the time of the alleged offence. He faces up to 20 years in that case, which goes to trial on Oct. 7.

Rosalind Prober, co-founder of Beyond Borders, a Winnipeg-based group that campaigns against child exploitation, said she was untroubled by the length of the prison term because she agrees that those who plead guilty should get shorter sentences.

"This is, in fact, the first of a very long series of trials for Christopher Neil," she told CBC News from Bangkok, where she was on hand for the outcome. "It's the first baby step in the justice system where he's being held accountable."

But she fears Ottawa may seek to have him transferred to a Canadian prison. "They do send jets for people, you know, to bring them home from prisons where they fear there are human-rights abuses," she said.

She argued that those who go to places where it is easy to violate the rights of children deserve what they get in local prisons. "So you do the time where you did the crime."

Neil's brother Matthew, who lives near Vancouver, agreed that "when you do a crime of that nature, you have got to be held accountable," he told CBC News.

"That being said, nobody wants to see their brother — he's still my brother — and I don't want to see him serve too much time in Thailand. But I do feel people should be held accountable for crimes of that nature. "

But the B.C. man hopes his brother can serve his sentence in Canada, especially if he is convicted in the pending trial involving the younger boy. Letting him serve his time at home would make visits easier while reassuring the family about the conditions he faces, Matthew Neil said.

The Melbourne newspaper The Age, writing about Australians imprisoned in Thailand, has called Thai prisons "a hell away from home" with cramped, filthy cells, no newspapers, no radio, no internet and no access to telephones.

Neil was the subject of an international police search last year after Interpol released censored photos of him allegedly engaging in sexual acts with young boys from different parts of southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam.

The photos were found online in 2004, but the face of the perpetrator was digitally obscured by a swirl shape. Interpol unscrambled the images with the help of German police computer experts three years later, and circulated the pictures publicly.

Hundreds of tips were received and Neil was arrested 11 days after the Interpol appeal was launched.

Neil taught at various schools in Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam since at least 2000.

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press