Graham Cleghorn….victim of injustice in Cambodia?

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June 10 2006

'Pedophile' extradition halted
by Michael McKenna

An Australian schoolteacher convicted of pedophilia in Cambodia walked free from a Queensland jail last night after the Howard Government decided he could be tortured and denied natural justice if sent back to Phnom Penh.

The Government cancelled the extradition of Clint Rex Betterridge, who fled Cambodia days before he was convicted of underage sex in 2003, after authorities there refused to give him a new trial following the recanting of his accusers' original testimony.

On the same day that a Cambodian court of appeal upheld the conviction, Justice Minister Chris Ellison ordered his immediate release amid fears he would be denied natural justice, and possibly tortured, if returned to serve his 10-year term.

In a move that threatens diplomatic relations with Cambodia, Senator Ellison told The Weekend Australian he had decided not to surrender Betterridge after reports his accusers had recanted their allegations.

Senator Ellison said the Cambodian Government had failed to respond to his request for a retrial. "This has been a long and complex matter," he said. "It has involved a conviction of an Australian for serious offences.

However, there have been circumstances particular to this case which have warranted my decision." Betterridge was convicted in absentia by a Cambodian court in January 2003 for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl and alleged sexual offences involving three other teenage girls. But they have since recanted their allegations.

Three days before his trial, Betterridge -- who had been engaged to marry a local woman -- fled to Queensland after the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh issued him a passport.

Amid a public outcry over the incident, Betterridge was arrested in Australia and has spent the past three years in Brisbane's maximum security Wolston Correctional Centre, alongside some of Queensland's most notorious criminals, awaiting a decision on Betterridge's extradition to Cambodia.

At a hastily called appeal hearing in Phnom Penh last Friday, nine girls testified that the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre had urged them to testify against Betterridge and his co-accused, fellow Australian Bart Lauwaert, claiming the teachers would be forced to pay them money if convicted.

But judge Saly Theara found their latest testimony, and the protests of the accused, groundless. The judge did, however, strike out orders that Lauwaert and Betterridge pay the girls and their families compensation.

Betterridge had claimed the allegations were part of an extortion attempt and feared he would be denied justice in Cambodia.

While on remand in Cambodia, he claimed he was tortured, with a medical report from Queensland's Department of Corrective Services finding evidence of scorpion bites to his genitals.