LONDON (Reuters) - A British pedophile, who abused 23 Malaysian and Cambodian children and babies including one aged just six months, was sentenced to life in prison by a London court on Monday.
Richard Huckle, who awarded himself points for his crimes, may have targeted almost 200 children and boasted that those from poor communities made easier victims than well-to-do westerners.
Using the pretext of being a photographer, English teacher and western philanthropist, Huckle won the trust of impoverished families before carrying out nine years of abuse. This included rapes which he filmed, photographed and shared online with pedophiles worldwide.
Dubbed the country's worst pedophile by Britain's media, Huckle stood in the dock at London's Old Bailey court with his hands clasped together as if in prayer as he was told he would have to serve at least 23 years behind bars for his crimes.
"Relentlessly, you preyed upon the very young, pre-pubescent vulnerable children from a minority ethnic community into which you ingratiated yourself," said judge Peter Rook. "You were and are sexually obsessed with children. In one of your postings you stated that you had become consumed by your pedophilia." As the pony-tailed Huckle was led away after the sentencing, a woman shouted from the public gallery: "A thousand deaths is too good for you".
Huckle had pleaded guilty to 71 offences and when he was arrested at London's Gatwick Airport in 2014, he was found with over 20,000 indecent images of children, including more than 1,000 of him raping and abusing victims, on his computer and camera.
He was just 19 when he began the abuse in March 2006, targeting a two-year-old child in Cambodia. The rest of the abuse until his arrest took place in Malaysia.
He is one of the most prolific child sex abusers known to have operated in Malaysia where the authorities have been criticized for failing to tackle sex crimes against children properly.
The sentencing was leading news bulletins in Malaysia and in one community in the capital Kuala Lumpur that Huckle frequented it was hailed as just.
"For doing this to the children, this is the correct (decision)," said community leader Sunderam Vadivelu, adding that Huckle often visited the settlement for families displaced by construction projects in the city.
A rights group in Malaysia said the Huckle case was the tip of the iceberg and the government has set up a hot line for members of the public to phone if they have information. "Sadly, child sex abuse is very prevalent in Malaysia," said Sharmila Sekaran of the advocacy group Voice of the Children.
The court heard Huckle had kept a hidden ledger of his activities on his computer where he awarded himself points for different types of abuse and made reference to 191 children. There was also material on his laptop that was so encrypted the authorities have not been able to access it.
He produced his own online pedophile manual advising others on how to abuse children and escape detection, having criticized a previous version.
The judge called it a "truly evil document", saying Huckle had also intended to make a commercial enterprise out of his abuse by posting images of his crimes in return for bitcoins, a web-based currency.
"At one stage, you made the chilling observation that 'impoverished kids are definitely much easier to seduce than middle class Western kids,'" Rook said.
"It is clear from your postings on hidden encrypted pedophile websites on the dark web, and from the manual you were in the process of drafting that your life revolved around your obsession with your own sexual gratification by child sex abuse."
Some of his victims were abused for years, and would be blighted for life, said the judge, adding that he would pose a very high risk to children for many years to come.
Last week, the Malaysian authorities said they were seeking details from British police about Huckle's victims and complained they had found out about the case only in April.
Andy Brennan, Deputy Director of Britain's National Crime Agency's child exploitation unit, said they had told the Malaysian police soon after learning Huckle's identity.
"We received intelligence suggesting that somebody who hadn't been identified at that point was active in these areas. That would have been August 2014," he told reporters outside court.
He said after working out where Huckle was, his agency first told Malaysian police in November 2014 and had met them on a number of occasions at that time. "I'm very confident we worked very, very closely with the Malaysian authorities and with the NGO based in Malaysia to provide the best support to that community where those children are based."
Additional reporting by Costas Pitas in London and A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur; writing by Michael Holden and Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison and David Stamp