By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - British pedophile Richard Huckle was sentenced to life in prison by a London court on Monday for abusing 23 Malaysian and Cambodian babies and children over almost a decade.
Huckle, 30, stood in the dock at London's Old Bailey court with his hands clasped together as if in prayer as he was told he would have to serve at least 23 years behind bars for his crimes against impoverished victims aged 6 months to 11 years.
"It is very rare indeed that a judge has to sentence sexual offending by one person on such a scale as this," said judge Peter Rook.
As Huckle was led away after the sentencing, a woman sitting in the public gallery shouted: "a thousand deaths is too good for you".
Huckle had pleaded guilty to 71 offences and was found with over 20,000 indecent images of children on his computer and camera when he was arrested at Gatwick Airport in 2014.
He is one of the most prolific child sex abusers known to have operated in Malaysia, where the authorities have been criticized for failing to properly tackle sex crimes against children.
The sentencing was leading news bulletins in Malaysia and in one community in the capital Kuala Lumpur that Huckle frequented it was hailed as just.
"For doing this to the children, this is the correct (decision). Wherever the crime happened. I'm happy about the verdict," said community leader Sunderam Vadivelu.
Vadivelu said Huckle often visited the community, which is a settlement for poor families displaced by construction projects in the city.
Malaysian police have said they are seeking details on the victims from their British counterparts while the government has set up a hot line for members of the public to phone if they have information.
But a rights group in Malaysia said the Huckle case was the tip of the iceberg.
"Sadly, child sex abuse is very prevalent in Malaysia," said Sharmila Sekaran of the advocacy group Voice of the Children.
PROLONGED CAMPAIGN OF RAPE
The London court heard Huckle abused his victims over a period of nine years between March 2006 and December 2014. All the crimes took place in Malaysia, apart from the first incident which involved the abuse of a 2-year-old child during a visit to Cambodia.
"Relentlessly, you preyed upon the very young - pre-pubescent vulnerable children from a minority ethnic community into which you ingratiated yourself," the judge told him.
"This was a prolonged campaign of rape of the children from a small community."
The judge said one of the most aggravating features of the case was that Huckle targeted and groomed impoverished children and their families, seeking to impress them with his relative wealth and status as a Westerner.
"Your offending behavior became entrenched in your everyday life," he added. "Your life revolved around your sexual activities with young children. Your distorted beliefs in respect of children are deep-seated. Your self-delusion knows no bounds."
Huckle boasted of his crimes online and had written a 60-page manual advising other pedophiles on how to abuse children.
The judge said this was a "truly evil document proselytizing paedophilia" and that Huckle had intended this to become a commercial enterprise.
(Additional reporting by Costas Pitas in London and A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur; writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)