In a report yesterday, BBC journalist Bronagh Munro revealed that she had uncovered 30-year-old Richard Huckle’s diary while producing a documentary titled ‘The Gap Year Paedophile’.
- Convicted of 71 offences against 23 children
- Youngest victim six months old
- Number of victims suspected to be almost 200
- Known victims were Malaysians and Cambodians
To the outside world, Richard Huckle was a regular 19-year-old from Kent. Fresh out of school, he was setting off across the world on his gap year, like thousands of other British students.
No one could have predicted that this ordinary middle-class boy would become an extraordinarily evil paedophile – one of the worst in recent history.
Huckle’s gap year was a springboard for a relentless campaign of child sexual abuse that lasted almost a decade.
In 2016, Huckle was convicted of 71 offences against 23 children. The youngest was just six months old. The judge at his trial noted that the number of his victims was likely to be nearer to 200.
Huckle’s known victims are Malaysian and Cambodian, but Jim Gamble, who used to lead child abuse investigations in Britain, told me Huckle is “highly likely” to have offended here.
“I would be shocked if there were no victims of his in this country.”
The National Crime Agency caught and arrested Huckle in 2014, following a tip-off from Australian colleagues investigating a notorious dark web paedophile site. Their painstaking analysis of the material Huckle posted on the dark web helped put him behind bars for at least 25 years.
How did Huckle get away with this for so long? I wanted to find out. I also wanted to find out whether his offending was even more prolific than the judge had suggested, and whether his known victims were getting any help.
Huckle’s social media and online activity was pulled down to protect his victims.
His family has disowned him, and most of his acquaintances (he didn’t seem to have many friends) simply refused to meet me.
Eventually, though, I got my hands on a diary that Huckle kept. Eight months later, I had uncovered missed opportunities to stop him, a previously undetected victim – and the strong possibility that Huckle had abused children in this country.
Quickly, a pattern of behavior emerged. Huckle had travelled to Malaysia for his gap year, where he masqueraded as a devoted Christian and English teacher, accessing children through churches, schools and orphanages.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing, Huckle fooled people into believing that he cared for the children. Instead, he was plying them with drink and drugs, abusing them in the most horrific ways imaginable, and recording it to share with other paedophiles on the dark web. He even wrote a manual to instruct other paedophiles on how to do it themselves.
Ann Jones used to work for World Challenge, the company that organised Huckle’s gap year. She told me Huckle had been trouble from the start. She recalled, “He made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.”
He was moved from his first school placement because he rubbed other ‘gappers’ up the wrong way. So Ann found a church, where Huckle became a Sunday school teacher.
But, soon, she had to remove Huckle from the church and from the Gap Year Challenge programme altogether, following reports of him smacking some of the children.
Instead of Huckle leaving Malaysia, though, Ann later learned that the church independently gave him his job back.
Huckle repeatedly mentioned the pastor of the church in his diary. But, when I tracked the pastor down, he insisted Huckle had never been a Sunday school teacher there and that he had no memory of any concerns about Huckle’s behaviour.
Mahi Ramakrishnan was one the first local journalists to investigate Huckle.
After Huckle’s conviction in 2016, Mahi interviewed one of his victims, who was repeatedly raped by Huckle from the age of three. This girl said she had told her family about the abuse but had been told “to just shut up”.
In Malaysia, it’s taboo to discuss the issue of child sexual abuse. The communities targeted by Huckle feel such shame that for many it is still easier to pretend nothing ever happened than to acknowledge the truth.
Huckle deliberately targeted the city’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
He exploited his status as a white man to gain their trust, groom and then abuse their children. On the dark web, he boasted about how easy it was.
Huckle also travelled to Cambodia, a notorious magnet for Western paedophiles.
The capital, Phnom Penh, is teeming with street kids selling trinkets to make ends meet. One girl told me she’d been a street vendor since she was four, and told me of Western men luring street kids back to their hotel rooms.
There’s a Cambodian custom known as ‘homestays’, where tourists stay with local families, giving them much-needed income. Many are completely innocent about sex tourism. Huckle ruthlessly exploited this, abusing a two-year-old girl from a host family.
Huckle spent his time in India embedded in poor communities, posing as a Christian – just as he did in Malaysia and Cambodia.
He made several references in his diary to one particular 10-year-old girl from a city slum. Huckle took photos of her, printing them out and giving these to her as gifts.
I met this girl and her family, who told me about her terrible ordeal.
I couldn’t find any sign of an investigation by British or Indian authorities into Huckle’s trips to India.
During the nine years Huckle was based in Asia, he made several return trips to the UK, including a significant amount of time in two churches in Britain. In one of those churches, he had become a Sunday school teacher – just as he had in Malaysia.
His diary talked of sleepovers at some of the kids’ houses. He wrote: “The kids have really taken to me as their giant playmate. I got a kiss from a little girl.”
Jim Gamble, who used to lead child abuse investigations in Britain, was adamant about the need for more extensive investigation. “We need to look at what went on in the UK at the times and places that he occupied here in positions of trust.”
Keith Niven, a senior member of the NCA’s child protection unit, told me: “We’re aware of two churches that he attended (in the UK). We’ve approached both those churches and…they’ve assured us to the best of their knowledge that they are not aware of any offending.”
Niven added that, “if there are any families, parents, children that believe that he has been engaged in any sexual activity with children, then we would like to speak to them.”
Huckle has refused to hand over the passwords for some of his hard drives.
Their content remains unknown.