KUALA LUMPUR: 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 today.
But several people interviewed by AFP said they had seen no reason to suspect Huckle of the sickening pattern of child sex abuse that could see him locked up for life.
Huckle, 30, could be sentenced as early as today by a London court on 91 charges including the rape or sexual assault of children as young as six months, committed during his several years living in Malaysia.
"I've seen him and met some of the children he brought to the church," said Paul Packianathan, senior pastor of a Protestant church located in a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
But 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 K Sumathi, 45, who sells flower garlands at the local Hindu temple.
Huckle was only caught after an investigation by 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 UK counterparts in April.
Police today 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," 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.
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.