|Intro||British convicted sex offender|
|Birth||14 May 1986, Ashford, Ashford, Kent, United Kingdom|
|Death||13 October 2019, HM Prison Full Sutton, Full Sutton, East Riding of Yorkshire, United Kingdom (aged 33 years)|
Richard William Huckle (14 May 1986 – 13 October 2019) was a convicted British serial sex offender. He was arrested by Britain's National Crime Agency after a tip-off from Australian Police and convicted of 71 counts of serious sexual assaults against children while posing as a teacher, photographer and Christian in Malaysia.
Huckle has been described as one of Britain's worst ever paedophiles, although he was only 28 years old at the time of his arrest. On 6 June 2016, he was given 22 life sentences with a minimum prison term of 25 years before being eligible to apply for parole.
On 13 October 2019, Huckle was strangled and stabbed to death (over 22 times) in his cell, and reportedly had condoms stuffed down his throat. On 17 January 2020, a fellow inmate, 29 year old Paul Fitzgerald, was charged with Huckle’s murder. On 5 February, Fitzgerald appeared at Sheffield Crown Court via video link charged with Huckle’s murder and did not enter a plea. A trial date has been set for November 18.
Huckle was born into a middle-class family in Ashford, Kent, on 14 May 1986. He was educated at the Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone, where he was described as "a bit of a loner, but nothing out of the ordinary" by friends. At the age of 16, he took part in a month-long expedition to visit a school in Namibia before leaving the Harvey Grammar School to study at the nearby South Kent College.
Huckle was a regular worshipper at Ashford Baptist Church, where he was described as a quiet man. He was also a member of a church in London, which he continued to attend up until the time of his re-arrest in December 2014. His pastor said in an interview of a series in "Undercover Asia" that he rarely came to church unless to see children.
Time in Malaysia
After leaving education, Huckle spent a gap year in Malaysia from 2005 to 2006. He returned regularly, helping out at local churches and among local communities, before moving there permanently in 2010.
Huckle enrolled onto a short CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course with the British Council before starting work as a freelance photographer in local communities around Kuala Lumpur. Hoping to further his career and status within the community, he also enrolled in an information technology (IT) study course at Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College. He did not complete his studies.
In addition to Malaysia, where all of the crimes he was convicted of occurred, and Cambodia, which was also mentioned in the trial, Huckle travelled extensively around south-east Asia to countries including Singapore, Laos and India. It has been revealed that, while in India, he persuaded a pastor to invite him to an orphanage in Bangalore to take photos and make videos with the children, posing as a teacher to gain trust.
On 19 December 2014, Huckle was arrested by officers from Britain's National Crime Agency at London's Gatwick Airport and questioned on suspicion of serious offences against children. His arrest followed an earlier tip-off from Task Force Argos, a highly specialised branch of Australia's Queensland Police Service responsible for the investigation of on-line child exploitation and abuse. Huckle initially refused to answer officers' questions and was bailed under the condition that he stay at his parents' house, while his camera, mobile phone, laptop and computer hard drives were seized.
Background of arrest
Police officers from Task Force Argos had been aware of a network of paedophiles operating on a dark web network called The Love Zone (TLZ). They noticed one member who always made posts using the unusual greeting "hiyas" and had a distinctive freckle on one of his fingers. Officers used social media and chat rooms to track down the individual, eventually finding a Facebook page that appeared to be a match. The profile was fake but photos of a vehicle led police to Shannon McCoole, a care worker from Adelaide. A warrant was issued for the arrest of McCoole. Upon entering his house, police discovered that McCoole was online and running his dark website at the time.
Police assumed the identity of McCoole and ran his site to catch other paedophiles. In doing so, police rescued 85 children from ongoing abuse and arrested hundreds. One member that stood out was Huckle, due to the number of children he had abused and the attitude of his posts. After discovering his real identity, they learned that he was due to return to the United Kingdom to spend Christmas with his family and immediately alerted the National Crime Agency. He was arrested at Gatwick airport on 19 December 2014.
Family confession and re-arrest
Huckle had been granted bail under the conditions that he live at his parents' address whilst investigations were in progress. Huckle had no criminal record and was in no positions of responsibility concerning minors. The police therefore after interviewing him released him temporarily, as it would take time to analyse and retrieve evidence from seized computer equipment. In his initial police interview, Huckle made no comment throughout. When out on bail, he was confronted by his mother about the allegations. Huckle admitted raping children aged three to thirteen, at which point his parents refused to allow him to remain in the house and telephoned the police. He returned to police custody.
Remand and trial
After leaving his parents' house Huckle was re-arrested and charged with 91 counts including creation and possession of child pornography, rape of a child under the age of 12, digital penetration, child abuse, and facilitating the commission of child sexual offences by creating a paedophile manual. He was denied bail by the police and remanded to court where his latest application for bail was also denied, Huckle was now in prison custody, initially at HMP Lewes before, due to the severity of the charges, being transferred to HMP Belmarsh in London to await trial.
At an initial hearing at the Old Bailey, in January 2016, Huckle pleaded not guilty to all 91 charges, which took over an hour to read in court, and prosecutors started to prepare three separate trials as they did not believe a jury should be subjected to all of the graphic evidence that would be presented in a single trial. In April, during a preliminary trial hearing, Huckle pleaded guilty to 71 of the 91 charges he was facing after a request to watch all of the evidence against him in court. As a result of his confession, prosecutors decided not to pursue a prosecution against the remaining 20 charges, and asked that they lie on file, to spare a jury the horror of having to watch graphic images and videos of child abuse since the 71 charges which Huckle admitted to would be sufficient for a lengthy sentence.
During the hearings, the full scale of Huckle's crimes became apparent for the first time. The prosecution, led by Brian O'Neill QC, showed evidence of a long history of crimes that started during Huckle's gap year in 2006 and continued for eight to nine years until he was apprehended in 2014. They included rape of children under the age of 12, possession and distribution of child pornography, creation of child pornography, child abuse, creating a paedophile manual entitled "Paedophiles And Poverty: Child Lover Guide", digital penetration of a child under the age of 12, and raising money for his activities via a crowd-funding website. His victims ranged in age from 6 months to 12 years old; one was abused while wearing a nappy, and another was abused for a number of years between the ages of 5 and 12. Huckle belonged to a website called The Love Zone on the dark web, which is obscured from general discovery and only accessible by anonymised means. On the site, he shared photos of his crimes with other members. He boasted about his crimes to other paedophiles, posting such comments as "Hit the jackpot, a three-year-old girl as loyal to me as my dog and nobody seemed to care" and "impoverished kids are definitely much easier to seduce than middle-class kids". In a series of postings in 2013 he admitted sexually abusing four girls from the same family. He awarded himself points for sexually abusing children, and could not win points if he abused the same child in the same week. Huckle wrote he wanted to marry a girl he had raped from the age of seven and have children with her, although he claimed he was "not a big fan of incest". In total, prosecutors unveiled 29 victims and over 20,000 photos and videos, but believe there could be up to 200 victims all over Southeast Asia and thousands more photos in encrypted areas of Huckle's laptop, which authorities have so far been unable to access. The vast majority of child abuse on his laptop was never recovered as he refused to help police retrieve the encrypted data. Police were only able to find a tiny percentage of his videos and photographs.
The hearings revealed some of the stratagems Huckle employed to procure victims, such as taking children out on day trips from orphanages and escorting them home from their own birthday party. Huckle had even talked about marrying one of his young victims so that he could set up a foster home and abuse "a cycle of children" who would pass through his home and turn paedophilia into a full-time job. Huckle also created a ledger of his abuses and where he scored the scale of abuse each victim suffered. It was from this ledger that the estimated number of children abused, 200, was derived, although so far authorities have only discovered photographic evidence of the abuse of 29 children due to Huckle refusing to give officers the passwords for encrypted areas of his hard drives.
Huckle was prosecuted under Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which allows British nationals to be tried and convicted in the United Kingdom for child sex crimes committed while overseas in an effort to prevent child sex tourism, a stratagem known as extraterritorial jurisdiction and a move welcomed by child protection charities.
It is a rarely used section of the Act: while no official tally is kept, Huckle is only the seventh person to be prosecuted under the measure, and that his crimes are the most serious to be prosecuted under it.
Huckle's sentencing hearing began at the Old Bailey on 1 June 2016 and lasted until 3 June 2016, with the sentence itself being passed on 6 June 2016. At the start of the hearing, the judge stated that Huckle should expect to go to prison for a very long time, as he was considering multiple life sentences due to the gravity of the offences committed.
During the sentencing hearing, Huckle's lawyer, Philip Sapsford QC, read a statement from Huckle where he blamed his crimes on his immaturity:
I really understand and acknowledge the true scale of damage it caused to the Malaysian community. I had hoped to escape this mundane life of solitude in the UK yet was overwhelmed by the attention I received in Malaysia. I completely misjudged the affections I received from these children. My low self-esteem and lack of confidence with women was no excuse for me to use these children as an outlet. I am open and eager to rehabilitate from this offending behaviour. I don't want to become a martyr to sex tourism in Malaysia. This was all my doing as a consequence of my immaturity and I'm truly remorseful.— Richard Huckle, A statement read on his behalf by his defence team.
Sapsford continued by asking the judge to take into consideration his client's young age, his claims of remorse, and the fact that he had no previous convictions. He also quoted from a psychiatric report that said Huckle had limited sexual experience with women and suffered depression as a teenager. He also stated that, despite the mitigating circumstances, this is the most extensive case of child sex crimes that he has ever been involved in.
It was also noted during the hearing, in a statement made by the prosecution, how convictions were only sought against crimes for which there was complete photographic evidence. It was noted how Huckle's ledger contained details of 200 children that had been abused but that they have been unable to access certain encrypted sections of his hard drive to obtain evidence.
At the Old Bailey on 6 June 2016, Judge Peter Rook QC sentenced Huckle to life imprisonment on 22 counts with a minimum prison term of 25 years before being eligible to apply for parole. Before passing down the sentence, the judge stated that Huckle carried out a campaign of rape and was driven by his own sexual gratification:
You have pleaded guilty to as many as 71 sexual offences. It is very rare indeed that a judge has to sentence sexual offending by one person on such a scale as this. In my view, you may well harbour feelings of regret but there is no feeling of genuine remorse in this case.— Judge Peter Rook QC, 6 June 2016
Aftermath and criticism
The National Crime Agency received criticism from the Malaysian Government, as well as a number of child protection charities in Malaysia, for their handling of the case. Officers from the NCA travelled to Malaysia to engage local charities, who performed child protection workshops in the community where Huckle lived, but they were kept in the dark about the gravity of his crimes. The Malaysian Government stated that they would like further details of the victims so they can offer counselling. On 4 June 2016, the Attorney General of Malaysia, Tan Mohamed Apandi Ali, stated that he was in the process of contacting his counterpart in the UK, and the British High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur, to obtain information about the case, which would help his investigation into the crimes and his efforts to help Huckle's victims.
The National Crime Agency responded to the comments from the Malaysian authorities, stating that they revealed enough details to be able to help the charities but were unable to provide full details until the prosecution was completed. For the same reason, severe media restrictions were put in place, which prevented anybody from reporting the story until the British Government had taken steps to ensure that all of Huckle's material had been taken down and that steps had been taken to protect his victims from other predators. On 6 June 2016, however, the National Crime Agency referred itself to the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, due to the fact that they were aware of Huckle's continued attendance at two churches in the UK up until the time of his re-arrest in January 2015 but did not contact them until sentencing had already begun. The IPCC will look into whether the NCA had acted appropriately and whether more could have been done to determine whether Huckle abused any children in the UK through his relationship with the churches.
The British Council issued a statement saying that they had reviewed their dealings with Huckle:
Richard Huckle completed a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course in 2008 which provides training to individuals to teach adult learners. Following the course, we have no records to indicate he was ever engaged as a teacher in Malaysia with us, either for adult students or children.— British Council Press Office, a statement issued 1 June 2016
They also stated that procedures would be reviewed, but that pre-employment checks are the responsibility of future employers not their education provider.
After the gravity of Huckle's crimes became known, the Malaysian Government set up a telephone hotline for people to call if they have any information about Huckle or if they were abused themselves. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, added that he was angered and saddened by Huckle's sexual violation of Malaysian children and called for all parties involved to ensure that children are not exposed to situations where irresponsible people can take advantage of them. In August 2016, in response to the criticism following the Huckle case, Najib Razak announced that a special task force had been set up to investigate how Malaysia's child protection laws could be redrafted to take into account the new ways that child sexual predators such as Huckle were preying on Malaysian children, with the aim of having a new version ready by the end of the year.
Following the discovery of Huckle's crimes, the Malaysian Government came under fire from child protection charities for their lack of laws against child abuse and child pornography. James Nayagam, chairman of Suriana Welfare Society for Children, was particularly critical of his government's relaxed nature in dealing with such crimes:
Malaysia should make child pornography and child sexual abuse a severe crime with heavy penalties. We should also issue a severe warning at the point of entering the country about our strong stance. Huckle got away with it. He knew the relaxed atmosphere in this country. We Asians fall head over heels with foreigners. He had people fall into his trap. But regardless of where people come from, we must have that check and balance.— James Nayagam, A newspaper article
In the article, Nayagam continued by pointing out that Section 292 of the Penal Code only deals with sale and distribution of obscene material.
While the media in the UK were largely supportive of Huckle's sentencing, the Malaysian press widely stated that the punishment was not severe enough, with statements such as "a thousand years is not enough", "We are horrified that the sex fiend [Huckle] will be eligible to appear before a parole board after 23 years", and "this monster could be out in 24 years" appearing in the days after his sentence was announced.
On 13 October 2019, Huckle was found strangled and stabbed to death in his cell at Full Sutton prison, aged 33. Another prisoner was charged with his murder in January 2020.