Briton jailed in paedophile crackdown

A Briton living in the Philippines has become the second foreigner to be sent to jail following the Philippine government's decision to crack down on paedophiles.

Steven Roy Mitchell, a computer analyst from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, was yesterday sentenced to 17 years in jail and ordered to pay compensation of200,000 pesos (pounds 5,000) for molesting two boys aged four and eight.

Passing judgment in the capital, Manila, Judge Lorenzo Veneracion, said he was satisfied that Mitchell was "guilty beyond reasonable doubt". The 44-year-old Briton had been renting a room in the apartment where the boys live. He was found to have offered inducements to family members to gain access to the boys.

This was the second time that Mitchell has been charged with a similar offence. It is believed that he avoided prosecution the first time by making payments to the victims' families. In cases against other paedophiles, the prosecutions were handled so incompetently that no convictions were secured.

However there is a growing political determination to tackle the problems of paedophilia and child prostitution. In 1992 a law was passed to give special protection to children threatened by paedophiles.

Mitchell's conviction coincides with the visit to Manila by Ann Widdecombe, the Home Office minister, who was briefing the Philippine authorities on British legislation to prosecute paedophiles who commit illegal acts overseas.

It also coincides with the end of a training programme,conducted by officers from Scotland Yard, for a squad of 26 Filipino policemen, justice department agents, state prosecutors and social workers to help the victims, to gather evidence against offenders, and to crack rings of organised paedophiles.

Non-governmental child-care agencies in Manila have alleged that many victims of sexual abuse have been forced into prostitution by their families who are living in conditions of extreme poverty. However,Filipino law makers believe that stepping up punishment is the way to deter offenders. Earlier in the year they passed a law imposing the death penalty for child abusers whose crimes lead to the death or insanity of a minor.

Remarkably, given the high level of known paedophilic activity in the Philippines, only four people, including Mitchell, have been successfully prosecuted for child-sex abuse. The first foreigner to be sent to jail was Keith Fitzgerald, a 66-year-old Australian found guilty of paying to have sex with a 13-year- old girl. Two Filipino men have also been convicted of child sex offences. Another Briton, alongside a Frenchman and a German, are awaiting trial on child-abuse offences.

Social workers in Manila are worried that some men are turning to children in the mistaken belief that they are less likely than prostitutes to carry the Aids virus.