Christopher Neil, 'Swirl Face,' Apologizes To Victims, Promises Change

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NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A British Columbia man notorious for making child pornography where his face was obscured with a swirl apologized in court Friday to his victims in Southeast Asia and said he wants to change his behaviour.

Christopher Neil told a B.C. Supreme Court that he no longer believes sex with children is acceptable "anywhere in the world'' at the conclusion of his sentencing hearing. He pleaded guilty in December to five child-sex crimes.

"I do not now see the world as I did, mistakenly, during the time when I offended,'' said Neil, 41, who spoke with a shaky voice.

"I will do everything I can and it is my full intention to change my life.''

christopher paul neilChristopher Neil has been in custody since 2014. (Photo: CP)

Neil has been held in custody since the RCMP Child Exploitation Unit arrested him two years ago on 10 charges, including producing images in Cambodia in 2003 that brought him under the scrutiny of Interpol.

He 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.

Neil wore glasses and looked heavier in the image that led to his capture in Thailand in 2007. He later served nearly five years in prison for unrelated abuse of two boys but was released early and returned to Canada in fall 2012.

'Didn't fully appreciate' the effect on victims' lives

Court has heard he met his victims, two boys, over two days in an impoverished district know for child-sex tourism outside the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in February 2003.

Neil paid them to create images where he is depicted naked with the children on a bed in a small hotel, court heard.

He told the court he doesn't want to produce any child pornography and regrets offences where he accessed child pornography in Canada in 2013.

Neil told the judge he wants to say sorry to the unnamed victims in the Cambodian images, adding he "didn't fully appreciate the effects'' on them until he heard about their lives during his sentencing hearing.

"I will try my best, I will do everything I can to not offend again."

The court heard a Canadian investigator tracked down and interviewed one of the victims, who reported he was 13 at the time. The man, now about 25, was terrified of being exposed and at risk of suicide.

Crown attorney Brendan McCabe asked the judge to sentence Neil to five years prison, which would amount to one more year after time served. McCabe told the court that Neil is a pedophile and can't change.

Neil said he believes he can change.

"And I will try my best, I will do everything I can to not offend again."

"I am very sorry and I just want to say to all the victims in this court case and others that I don't know about and that have been harmed by my actions, I am sorry. I think about my actions daily.''

""It's going to be a tough time, but he's an intelligent man, he has insight into the offences and that goes a long way in the file."

Neil's lawyer asked the judge for a sentence of time served, arguing further incarceration wouldn't help with his client's rehabilitation or reintegration.

Neil has been in segregation for the past two years awaiting trial and now wants to be released so he can work, Mark Thompson told the judge.

"It's going to be a tough time, but he's an intelligent man, he has insight into the offences and that goes a long way in the file,'' Thompson said outside court.

The judge reserved his decision and has set a date in early June for sentencing.

— Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

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