VANCOUVER â€” Christopher Neil had been free in Canada for only months after serving time in a Thailand prison for sexually abusing young boys when police allege he started bragging about his past and seeking images of child pornography on the Internet.
The convicted pedophile was accused of sending a text message that said “The Swirl liveth still” to a Vancouver man as they chatted about their interest in prepubescent boys. Neil was dubbed “Swirl Face” by international media after authorities released pictures of a man engaged in sex acts with two young boys, showing his face disguised by a digital swirl.
The text is part of the evidence heard during a bail hearing for Neil held under a publication ban. It can be reported now because Neil was sentenced Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court to 5 1/2 years in prison on five charges. With time served, he has just over 14 months left in his sentence.
Neil, 41, from the Vancouver suburb of Maple Ridge, pleaded guilty last December to two charges 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.
At his sentencing hearing, Neil apologized to his victims and said he wants to change his behaviour.
In 2007, three years after finding more than 300 photos of a man sexually assaulting boys on the Internet, German police unscrambled the swirl.
Neil had kept a low profile while travelling through Asia teaching English until the new photo was released. He was identified and arrested within days.
At the bail hearing in April 2014, the Crown explained how the RCMP, the Vancouver Police Department and a former forensics investigator with unique expertise in Cambodia worked together building evidence against Neil.
Crown lawyer Brendan McCabe said Neil “made significant efforts to cover his tracks.” But he described how key evidence was scraped together from a storage locker in Canada, and from interviews and electronic communications with pedophiles who associated with Neil after he moved back to Vancouver.
Some of the images that German police worked from were found in Neil’s storage locker, court heard.
“So we have not only the swirled images that were taken off the Internet, we have the unswirled versions … in the original form,” McCabe said during the hearing.
In Cambodia, authorities tracked down one of the boys in the photos who said he was 13 years old at the time. The photos include data signatures indicating the 2003 date when they were taken and the 2004 date when they were modified, court was told.
There was also an expired passport in the storage locker showing Neil was in Cambodia at the same time the photos were taken, along with old plane tickets in his name for Asian destinations, and a psychological report prepared for Neil’s application to become a priest, court heard.
A B.C. judge imposed strict conditions on Neil when he arrived in Vancouver in the fall of 2012 after serving his sentence in Thailand. But just months later, court heard Neil was associating with pedophiles and searching online for child pornography, despite the court order.
An analysis of a laptop that Neil had to “write about his experience in a Thai jail'” turned up 25 child-porn images, two featuring Neil with his face digitally swirled, court heard.
Detectives also said they found Neil had accessed websites offering anonymous online surfing and military grade data-wiping software.
On a phone, police said they found text chats with a Vancouver man who Neil boasts to about his reputation. In a later police interview, the unnamed man said he showed Neil how to locate child porn on the “deep web, the hidden web,” McCabe said.
Court heard Neil was also living in the same building as a man convicted of child-sex offences who told police the pair purchased a laptop together.
The man, who was not identified in court, told police Neil used the computer to find child pornography, and always cleaned his fingerprints from the computer, court heard.
Neil told the man he “desperately” wanted to go back to Thailand, court was told.
“He’d have more fun there because you can get away with more … sex with kids,” the man said.
McCabe said there was no evidence that Neil sexually assaulted children in Canada.
“But what there is evidence of is the fact that Mr. Neil seems to take pride in his reputation,” he told the bail hearing.
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Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press