A violent paedophile was left at large in Prague for more than a decade. Why?
To the British tabloids, he was ‘the Pied Piper of paedophiles’, the UK’s ‘most wanted child abuser’. But we all knew him as Willem: the fat, jolly, occasionally lecherous Dutchman who was a mainstay of Prague’s expatriate gay community. If you visited one of the city’s same-sex watering holes before last August, when Czech police arrested him, chances are that you would have seen, if not heard, the Pied Piper of Prague holding court at the end of the bar.
‘He liked his drugs, his drinks and his rent boys,’ one mutual friend, a young man I’ll name Thomas, recalls of Willem. The pursuit of such pleasures is hardly unusual in the Czech capital, which has long been known as the ‘Bangkok of Europe’ for its legalised prostitution and seedy sex club scene, attracting an unmistakable class of northern European gentleman tourist (of both the homosexual and heterosexual persuasion). ‘I thought he was doing nothing out of the ordinary because that’s what a lot of people in his age group do in this city. It’s not surprising and it’s socially acceptable in this country,’ another friend, Michael (also a pseudonym), told me. ‘He would always say he was pickled in vodka and cocaine.’
So cemented in our minds was his party-animal demeanour that, when he seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth in late August, my circle of friends began to speculate — only half-jokingly — that he had died of a heart attack or was in jail for drug possession. We weren’t prepared for the BBC story that appeared three months later, in which it was revealed that our chum ‘Willem’ had been living for years under a variety of aliases, is English rather than Dutch, and has a criminal rap sheet which belied his innocuous ownership of a tourist apartment rental agency. The most troubling thing, however, was not that this violent paedophile had deceived us, but that he had been able to hide in plain sight for some 15 years, when British and Czech authorities knew he was living in Prague for nearly this entire time.
This is a salient fact to keep in mind in light of Britain’s latest paedophile hysteria, Operation Yewtree, which has rightly earned a great deal of criticism for its seemingly endless and reckless pursuit of a variety of former celebrities on thin charges of sexual abuse that allegedly occurred, in some instances, as long as five decades ago. Yet the case of my old acquaintance Willem demonstrates the hazards of an apathetic approach to claims of sexual assault on the young.
Though Willem’s victims are surely fewer than those of the late Jimmy Savile, his alleged crimes are still more ghastly. In 1995, Lewes Crown Court sentenced him to seven years in jail for charges including sexual assault at knifepoint, taking indecent images of children, and drugging a 14-year-old homeless boy and selling him into sexual slavery in the Netherlands. A harrowing 1997 report by the Guardian had him boasting to an undercover policeman of how he rounded up ‘chickens’ (paedophile slang for underage boys) across Europe to work as prostitutes. A 17-year-old told of a conversation in which Willem pointed to a group of young boys on the street in Amsterdam and said that he would pay £200 or £300 for each. A Birmingham man recalled Willem showing up outside a club holding an eight-year-old boy’s hand, explaining that he had to ‘make a delivery’.
But none of these revelations could top the most horrifying allegation, lent some credence by his conversations with undercover officers, that Willem was involved in the sale (and possible production) of ‘snuff films’, in which young boys were sexually abused, tortured and murdered on camera.
In 1996, a year after his trial, Willem’s sentence was reduced on appeal from seven to five years. The following year, he was awarded parole after having served 30 months. Part of the agreement was that he must remain in the UK for the duration of his probationary period. He promptly fled to the Continent.