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Sex suspect mum behind shades

  • Story Highlights
  • Pedophile suspect is one of 50 wanted foreign sex suspects in one Thai town
  • Suspect Christopher Paul Neil remained silent after Friday capture
  • Interpol issued worldwide alert last week after 200 photographs were posted
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By Matthew Chance
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. Here, CNN's Matthew Chance describes seeing a pedophile suspect in police custody.

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Handcuffed, his head covered with an old blue T-shirt to hide his face from the cameras, Christopher Paul Neil, a 32-year-old Canadian English teacher, was escorted through the throngs of waiting news media outside Thailand's national police headquarters.

The world's newspaper and television reporters jostled for position to catch a first glimpse of a man described by police as a predator -- a suspected pedophile accused of abusing a dozen underage Asian boys in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

As the Thai police, who had arrested him just a few hours earlier in northeastern Thailand, pushed the photographers back, reporters shouted questions: Did you abuse the boys? What message do you have for your family, anxious and ashamed at home?

There were no answers. Neil kept silent throughout his exhibition to the world. Even when he was forced to sit in a police press conference -- his face now uncovered -- he chose not to speak. He just sat there, motionless, peering out at the audience and the flashbulbs through mirrored sunglasses.

His arrest was remarkably swift. He was in Thailand for just eight days before being tracked down in a manhunt that saw his image plastered on newspaper front pages and Thai television screens, accused of sex crimes.

In the end it was the publicity, police said, that led them to their man, ending the international manhunt that involved law enforcement agencies in Germany, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada and Thailand.Video Watch how technology unmasked suspect »

Police say they were tipped off by locals in the Thai town of Korat, about 130 miles from Bangkok, that a foreigner fitting Neil's description was living in a house there. An arrest warrant was obtained and officers moved in.

Earlier in the week, there had been searches across the country, with Thai police scouring bars and hostels Neil is known to have visited in the past. In the seedy Thai coastal resort town of Pattaya, police questioned owners of bars where underage boys, they said, could be procured for sex. At least one bar owner told them he recognized Neil's face. He had been a regular, the owner said, according to police.

Thailand seems to attract Western pedophiles in droves. At a police station in Pattaya, CNN was shown a file of 50 suspected foreign sex offenders believed to be in the Pattaya area. The officer in charge of the district said Neil was their highest priority because of the international attention surrounding him.

But he wasn't really a big fish, this officer said. He said there are many other foreign pedophiles in Pattaya who do much worse.

Why then the focus on just one man?

One reason may be the remarkable way in which Neil's identity was uncovered. For years, German police said they had been observing pictures posted on the Internet of a man abusing young Asian boys, but that his face had been electronically manipulated with a computerized swirl effect, hiding his features.

But computer experts working with German police cracked the code, finding a way to reverse the swirl, unscrambling the abuser's features and producing an identifiable image.

It was posted on the Web site of Interpol, the international police agency, and provoked an astonishing reaction. Interpol says more than 350 people contacted them with information. Within days, the mystery man with a swirling face had been identified -- passport number, date of birth, nationality -- all uncovered, sparking the manhunt.

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As the dragnet closed, Neil boarded a plane for Thailand from South Korea, and was pictured arriving on October 11, police said. That most recent image was circulated in Thailand and the arrest was soon made.

He now faces days of intense questioning about his alleged crimes. Already police say at least three underage Thai boys have stepped forward, identifying Neil as a man who paid them for sex. If found guilty in Thailand, he faces a sentence of up to 20 years. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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