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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UK man cleared of child-sex charge

UK man cleared of child-sex charge

British national Derek Baston was cleared of a debauchery charge on April 8 at a

controversial trial in which he appeared as the sole witness.

The 70-year-old was arrested in July 2002 after police raided a Svay Pak guesthouse

where they found him with a naked girl. The prosecution said she was 12-years-old,

but Baston's lawyer said the girl was in fact 15.

Baston, who had worked for three years as an English teacher in Phnom Penh, had earlier

claimed he was in the notorious brothel district to find his cleaner. He later said

he was visiting a 26-year-old woman called 'Faye', but denied any involvement with

the alleged victim.

"I'm completely and utterly innocent," he told reporters prior to the trial.

"My worst fear is that the truth does not come out."

The prosecution's evidence centered on police photographs of Baston and the girl

which were taken at the time of the arrest. However a statement from the girl's grandmother,

who made the initial complaint, proved definitive. The court heard she denied knowingly

making a complaint. Baston claimed she had also written a letter of apology to him.

"She took pity on this British man and she asked the court to pardon him,"

said Baston's lawyer, Dy Borima.

Baston looked drained and exhausted during the hour-long trial as he stooped over

the witness box. His arms were covered in a red rash, an ailment his lawyer said

was the result of eight months incarceration.

He pleaded not guilty to the charge of debauchery, and said the incident was a set-up.

He claimed the girl entered his room when he was waiting to see Faye, and four minutes

later the police broke in.

"A girl walked in and she walked along to the shower," he said. "There

was banging all around the place [then] the police came in. The next thing I see

the police are helping the girl take her clothes off ... they lifted her off the

ground and put her next to me on the bed."

Baston alleged the police then took the photographs that were used as evidence. The

prosecution countered that the four minutes Baston claimed to have been in the room

was not enough time for a set-up to take place.

None of the key witnesses was present in court, and nor were the girl's lawyer, her

grandmother, or the arresting police officers. Heng Poe, the municipal deputy police

commissioner, said he was dismayed the court did not invite the victim or the police

to the trial, but refused to comment on Baston's allegations that he had been framed.

After the defendant's testimony and closing statements from the lawyers, the judge

dropped all charges citing insufficient evidence. Baston said he was relieved by

the verdict, and would remain in the country.

Minister for Women's and Veterans' Affairs, Mu Sochua, an outspoken advocate for

tough sentences for pedophiles, said the girl deserved better protection.

"I am very disappointed," she said. "In this case the best would have

been to provide the victim and the family a lot more protection so there was no coercion

and influence."

Sochua said the government needed to work harder to ensure that evidence gathered

was strong enough to secure convictions. That, she said, would deter other foreigners

coming to the country to procure sex with minors.

ï Convicted pedophile Clint Betterridge has been jailed in Australia while he awaits

the outcome of an extradition hearing on May 7. Betterridge was convicted of debauchery

in absentia on January 29 at a trial in Siem Reap. Fellow Australian Bart Lauwaert

received 20 years for a similar offense at that trial.

Betterridge fled the country days earlier after an embarrassing mix-up in Phnom Penh

when his embassy issued a passport to replace the one held by the Cambodian police.

On March 13, Canberra issued new regulations allowing the extradition to Cambodia

of any Australian citizens accused or convicted of child sex offenses here.

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