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
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.