KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Confessed British child sex abuser Richard Huckle took Malaysian children with him to church and regularly roamed an impoverished Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood to snap pictures of kids, those who met him said on Friday (June 3).
But several people interviewed by AFP said they had seen no reason to suspect Huckle of the sickening pattern of child sex abuse committed during his several years living in Malaysia that could see him locked up for life.
Huckle, 30, will be sentenced on Monday, judge Peter Rook told a court on Friday. The sentencing for the serial paedophile had been expected later on Friday but the judge said he wanted to consider mitigating factors put before him by Huckle's lawyers, notably a letter of remorse.
Judge Peter Rook said his sentencing would begin at England's Old Bailey central criminal court in London at 10am local time on Monday.
Huckle pleaded guilty to 71 counts of child sex offences, including rape. During Friday's hearings, Huckle's lawyer Philip Sapsford asked for leniency in the sentencing as his client had, in pleading guilty, spared a jury from being exposed to the images of his abuse.
The material, recovered from his laptop, had been placed on the "dark web", a difficult-to-access part of the Internet.
In the letter of remorse, written on May 23 this year and read to the court by Mr Sapsford, Huckle acknowledged "the scale of the damage I have caused".
"I completely misjudged the affections I received from these children... My low self-esteem and lack of confidence with women was no excuse to be using these children as an outlet."
He said he was "gullible to be easily influenced" by the "pathetic, perverted lust of those who drew me into the dark net".
Huckle said he hoped help would be made available to the victims of the "disgusting behaviour I performed on them".
"I am open and eager to rehabilitate from this offending behaviour," he wrote. "In no way do I want to be treated as a martyr to child sex tourism in Malaysia.
"This was all my own doing as a consequence of my own immaturities... I am deeply remorseful and regretful of what has happened and will do all I can in being proactive towards rehabilitating myself."
Huckle, who is in custody, was flanked by three officials in the dock and was led away to await his sentencing.
"I've seen him and met some of the children he brought to the church," said Mr Paul Packianathan, senior pastor of a Protestant church located in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
But Mr Packianathan said Huckle's church visits were infrequent and aroused "no suspicions". He condemned Huckle's actions as "despicable".
Huckle was frequently seen in a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood peopled largely by poor members of Malaysia's ethnic-Indian minority from roughly 2012 to 2014, area residents said.
He claimed variously to be a student, a photographer or an English teacher, and was known to offer English lessons to children, they said.
"He behaved like a professional photographer. When we saw his picture in the newspaper we were shocked. We cannot believe he did such a thing," said Mr K. Sumathi, 45, who sells flower garlands at the local Hindu temple.
Huckle was only caught after an investigation by the British authorities who monitored his online activities, which included prolifically uploading indecent images to paedophilia forums.
Huckle was arrested in December 2014 when he returned to Britain to spend Christmas. He has pleaded guilty to 71 counts of child sex offences.
His apparent ability to escape detection in Malaysia has caused deep embarrassment for authorities.
Malaysian police have said they never received any reports about Huckle's abuses and were only informed of the case by their British counterparts in April.
The police on Friday announced for the first time that they had launched their own investigations.
"We have begun investigations. We will look into the places that he went to, the people that he met," Mr Law Hong Soon, deputy chief of criminal investigation in the Royal Malaysian Police, told reporters.
Police officials say they have been pressing Britain for details in the case, partly so that they can find Huckle's dozens of victims and arrange aid and counselling.
Mr J. Shan, a 27-year-old golf instructor who lives in the poor Indian neighbourhood Huckle frequented, said he believes the Briton resided in the area at least two years, often seen toting his camera bag.
"His movements were very mysterious. He would appear some days and then disappear for some time," Mr Shan said.
"But I never liked him. To me he looked mentally disoriented. Sometimes he talked to himself."
One resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said Huckle would sometimes take jobs shooting photos of the birthday parties of local children.
After Huckle was arrested, investigators found over 20,000 indecent images on his computer. He also kept a ledger of his attacks and wrote a manual called "Paedophiles And Poverty: Child Lover Guide".
The revelations have sparked revulsion in Malaysia, with newspapers on Friday plastering photos of Huckle on their front pages along with angry headlines.
Leading daily The Star's banner headline read: "This monster defiled our kids."