Immigration Police arrested on Saturday a convicted pedophile previously jailed for taking naked pictures of his boy-scout troupe in England. British national Paul Edward George Prestidge, 35, had been teaching at Hope International School, a private school in Phnom Penh providing pre-school to Grade 12 education, for the last 14 months. Despite his record, and a UK court ruling forbidding him from working with children, Mr. Prestidge found a job at Hope International School in August 2014, one month after arriving in Cambodia.
Going by the last name Evans-Prestidge, he taught mathematics, and according to a colleague’s blog post he helped direct a play called “The Hope Story” about the school’s evolution from “its early days with a handful of homeschooled children” to its new campus with nearly 400 students in the northwest of the city. The school’s mission is “providing quality, Christ-centered education services for children of international Christian workers in Cambodia.”
While a boy-scout troop leader and primary school teacher in Plymouth, England, Mr. Prestidge took naked photographs of children and invented a game called “Sahara” in which young boys would strip while pretending to be hot. Exeter Crown Court acquitted him in 2007 of sexual activity with a child but convicted him on charges of taking pictures of children, voyeurism and possessing child pornography.
His defense lawyer, Llewellyn Sellick, told BBC after the trial that Mr. Prestidge would seek help. “He has effectively lost everything. He has lost his job, his name, his reputation and he will never work with children again.”
Mr. Prestidge first came to the attention of the authorities last month when the British Embassy requested that local police detain him, said Major General Uk Heisela, the chief investigating officer for the immigration department.
According to a British government website, he was released from prison before serving his full sentence on conditions that included restricted travel. In 2010, he notified police in England that he would be traveling to Spain with his family on holiday but did not return. Four years later, he moved to Cambodia.
After two days of monitoring his apartment in the Sen Sok district of Phnom Penh with undercover officers, the immigration department raided the house on Saturday morning. “We seized two laptops and some disks,” General Heisela said. “However, police have not found any porn video or photos which relate to a crime.”
He said that Mr. Prestidge would be extradited to the UK after being questioned by British embassy officials in Phnom Penh. Police have not charged him with a crime.
In a statement sent out to school staff and students’ families, the school director David Ware wrote that there was “no record of any concerns being raised by staff, parents or students regarding the nature of either Paul’s teaching or his relationships with students.”
In the letter, Mr. Ware wrote that the school is terminating Mr. Prestidge’s contract and “cooperating with the relevant authorities.”
Asked if Hope International conducts background checks of its employees, and if it will be conducting an internal investigation to determine whether or not sexual abuse had occurred, Mr. Ware declined to answer, saying that the school was “in the midst of an unfolding situation and the landscape changes quickly.”
“My priority will be in answering the type of questions you have asked to the families, staff and board first,” he wrote in an email response to a list of questions.
An online search of Mr. Prestidge’s name brings up a handful of stories relating to his trial and to his disappearance, with photographs included.
Although Mr. Prestidge was using an altered last name, pictures of his passport taken at his apartment show that he entered the country using his real name. It is unclear if school officials asked him for his passport during hiring.
Cases of foreign registered sex offenders finding jobs working with children in Cambodia have been numerous and have led to high-profile arrests in recent years. In June, a Phnom Penh court sentenced Australian private school teacher George Moussallie to five years in prison for abusing six children.
“Currently it’s not mandatory for any employer to require background checks on employees,” said Samleung Seila, the director of child-protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants. “This would be instrumental in preventing any known sex offender from repeating.”
While checks are not mandatory, Mr. Seila says that the United Kingdom has been particularly proactive in helping employers and foreign governments monitor sex-offending British nationals who travel abroad.
In early 2013, the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre launched a program designed to help Cambodian police and employers to identify and prevent sex offenders from working with children.
Called the International Child Protection Certificate, schools can require applicants to undergo a rigorous criminal background check. But the program has its limits.
“Right now, it’s just a tool because it is not required,” Mr. Seila said.