An elderly accused British sex offender, previously caught with a naked underage girl in a brothel, walked out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court a free man on Tuesday after the judge dropped all charges against him.
The court previously charged British citizen Derek Baston with debauchery after police arrested him last July in a brothel in the Svay Pak red-light district with an underage girl. He had spent eight months and four days behind bars before the court agreed to drop the charges against him on Tuesday.
“I am happy with the decision,” said Baston after the verdict was delivered. When asked if he will now leave Cambodia, Baston, who was 69 years old when arrested on July 28, replied: “No, Cambodia is my home.”
Throughout the trial on Tuesday, Baston testified that he was the victim of a police set-up and claimed that he never sought the sexual services of the naked underage girl he was caught with.
Baston testified Tuesday that he went to the brothel in order to see a 26-year-old Vietnamese woman named “Faye” whom he had known for about two-and-a-half months.
When he arrived at the brothel, the woman in charge of the house led him to a wood-walled room “with many holes and windows and no locks on the doors,” and he was told to wait for Faye, Baston said.
However, instead of Faye, a girl suspected by the court of being 15 years old entered the room and walked straight to the shower, Baston said, adding that he motioned for the girl to leave and told her to “go away.”
“I thought that maybe the girl was the daughter of the [brothel owner] or maybe she was lost,” he said.
The girl was in the room for less than a minute before police started banging on the walls, frightening both Baston and the girl. Several police officers then burst through the unlocked door and started to take the girl’s clothes off, he said.
“Police helped the girl take her clothes off, then they picked her up and placed her on the bed next to me,” Baston said. “Then the police started taking photos.”
He said he was in the room for only a total of four minutes.
The court clerk also read testimony from the grandmother of the girl, Ho Hoy, who said she never filed a formal complaint against Baston because “he had never committed a crime against my granddaughter. I requested the court to have him released.”
Judge Heng Thirith apparently believed Baston’s testimony and decided Tuesday to release him. “Derek Baston did not commit anything wrong,” he said. “The court orders to release him from the charge.”
The court first tried Baston on Dec 31 but declined to convict or release him and sent the case back to the investigating judge for further evidence-gathering.
Originally from Bath, England, Baston said outside the courtroom Tuesday that he had been living in Cambodia for three years and has worked as an English teacher at two different schools. Although he declined to name the schools, it was reported previously that he taught at Norton University. It is unclear whether Baston will return to his old job.
On March 29, authorities conducted a major raid in Svay Pak, where they arrested and charged 13 Vietnamese men and women with trafficking humans. Authorities also rescued 37 girls and women from Vietnam. Many of them are reported to be younger than 18, some as young as 5 or 6.
During the raid, however, the police and Ministry of Interior officials did not detain, arrest or charge any brothel customers.