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Former teacher to plead not guilty to new charges

Christopher Neil, a convicted pedophile who gained notoriety as ‘Swirl Face’, was arrested at Vancouver’s airport Friday, September 28, 2012.

Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press

The lawyer for Christopher Neil – a convicted pedophile who served time in a Thai prison – expects his client will plead not guilty to new charges in his home province of B.C.

Mr. Neil gained international notoriety in 2007 and was the subject of a global manhunt after Interpol said he had uploaded to the internet hundreds of photos of himself sexually abusing children. He had altered his face in the images with a digital swirl, but police unscrambled it.

Mr. Neil, a former teacher who returned to B.C. in 2012, was arrested last Friday. He faces 10 charges resulting from two investigations – one by the RCMP, the other by the Vancouver Police Department.

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Mr. Neil – dressed in a black half-sleeve shirt and blue jeans – made a brief court appearance on Monday. The case will be back in court next week, and he remains in custody. Mr. Neil did not address the court or speak with his lawyer, Mark Thompson, during the session,

Outside court, Mr. Thompson said he expects Mr. Neil to plead not guilty. He added that he had spoken with his client, but declined to comment on Mr. Neil's reaction to the arrest and charges.

Mr. Neil grew up in Maple Ridge, B.C., about an hour's drive east of Vancouver. High school friends described him as the "guy next door," a person who was neither popular nor unpopular.

In 1995, at the age of 20, he entered the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, B.C., to study for the Catholic priesthood, but discontinued his studies.

He began seeking a teaching job and eventually went to work in Asia.

Police started looking for him in 2004, when officers in Germany discovered hundreds of images of someone abusing boys.

He was arrested in Thailand in 2007 and was convicted of assaulting two boys.

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When he returned to B.C., Mr. Neil was taken into custody. He did not face criminal charges in Canada at the time, but police sought a bond because they believed he was a risk to re-offend.

The RCMP's Integrated Child Exploitation Unit had forwarded evidence to Thai police to support their initial investigation. But, in 2012, Mounties learned it was not used in Mr. Neil's prosecution there.

Officers then conducted follow-up investigations and forwarded the files to the Crown.

The RCMP investigation prompted six new charges against Mr. Neil – two counts of sexual touching, two counts of invitation to sexual touching, and one count each of production and possession of child pornography.

The RCMP has said five of the charges involve incidents alleged to have occurred in Cambodia in 2003, while one – the possession count – is said to be linked to Maple Ridge in 2007.

The RCMP said Cambodian officials are aware of the investigation and charges.

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The Vancouver police investigation, which began last year, yielded four charges – two of accessing child pornography, and two of possession of child pornography.

Mr. Neil had been taken into custody for breaching the conditions of his bond – he was found with a laptop computer. He pleaded guilty to the breach.

Mr. Thompson said the charges his client now faces are "severe" and could result in a prison sentence of more than 10 years.

Mr. Thompson would not comment on whether his client had undergone any sort of treatment, saying that information would be released later.

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