This accused sex offender has been on the run for nine years, so why doesn't anyone know it?


Key points:

  • Charles Batham fled Broome in 2011, accused of multiple child sex offences
  • His name and image have never been widely publicised
  • One of his alleged victims and child protection groups say the case highlights a fault in the system

Charles Batham is the aristocratic-sounding Brit who became a fixture in the tropical Western Australian tourist town of Broome and has been described as creepy, charming, and eccentric. He is also an alleged child molester.

For a decade, Mr Batham was best known for his shock of wiry, ginger hair, and an unconventional lifestyle — living in a converted double-decker bus and taking tourists on ultralight plane tours.

But in 2011 it all fell apart in a paedophilia scandal that exposed not just Mr Batham, but the weaknesses in the international legal system that has allowed him to remain on the run for nine years.

Now the ABC can reveal the alleged sex offender has not only evaded arrest, but been issued with a new British passport under a different name, apparently allowing him to move freely around the world.

"I just feel terrible that this has happened," Broome local, Robyn Maher, said.

"I feel annoyed that he's not had to go to court and face up to what he's accused of doing … and it makes you wonder, what is he getting up to now in some other part of the world?"

For former policeman and child protection advocate Glenn Hulley, the case highlighted weaknesses in the international systems aimed at tracking and catching serious offenders.

"Cases like this definitely highlight the gaps in the system," he said.

"The system has clearly failed, and I think there needs to be an investigation, because the public deserves answers."

 

Nine years a fugitive

Mr Batham has never been convicted, nor acquitted, of the child molestation accusations because, after being charged, he breached bail and fled to Malaysia.

On the run since February 2011, Mr Batham would now be 77 years old; an aging international fugitive with an Interpol Red Notice out for his arrest.

Nine years on from his absconding, one of his alleged victims has spoken out for the first time.

Vanessa* described not just the devastating effect Mr Batham has had on her life, but her confusion about the hush-hush approach by authorities.

"I spend a lot of time just waiting for a sense of justice or closure, or anything like that," she said.

"I feel like I can't move forward in my life until this is in some way finished."

'Creepy' character

Charles Batham arrived in the Kimberley region in the late 1990s.

He brought an aura of exoticism, telling locals he had broken the world record for riding a motorbike across the Sahara Desert in Africa.

He had a posh English accent and there were vague references to 'old money'; family links to cotton factories in India and business interests in South Africa.

 

According to urban legend, he arrived with a clutch of illegally-mined diamonds, that he liquidated to fund his fledging Broome trike tour business, which involved ferrying passengers in an ultralight aeroplane up and down Cable Beach.

And then there was the bus, an authentic London double-decker model, which he converted and slept in.

Robyn Maher met Mr Batham early on, when she was running the Broome Visitors Centre.

"If you met him you'd remember him, because he was very tall, he had curly hair, glasses, a colonial accent; so he kind of stood out," she said.

"He was quite creepy … I know that sounds odd, but he was a creepy man."

Her husband Chris Maher, who also worked in the Broome tourism industry, agreed.

"He was an unkempt, scruffy looking guy, with this annoying habit of clearing his throat all the time," he said.

"He wasn't particularly pleasant … you'd get stuck in conversation with him, he could be quite domineering."

 

But like many northern towns, Broome has a knack for adopting oddballs.

Mr Batham soon had a stall at the weekend markets and a cavernous hangar next to Broome airport, complete with bar, office, and an above-ground swimming pool.

Alleged paedophile

The first allegations emerged in 2010.

Police searched Mr Batham's property and seized evidence.

He was charged with two counts of intent to expose a person under 13 to indecent matter, and one count of possessing child exploitation material.

In November of that year he appeared quietly before the Broome Magistrates Court and was released on bail.

By the time the court next convened to hear the case, the allegations had escalated, and Mr Batham now faced 31 charges; including six counts of sexual penetration of a child under 13 and 11 counts of indecently recording a child under 13.

But despite established conditions governing his bail, the then-66-year-old failed to appear at court.

He had fled — jetting out of the country on a commercial flight, according to local police.

"His whereabouts at the moment are unknown," Detective Senior Constable Wayne Davies said at an interview in April 2011.

"We do know that he did leave the country and flew to Kuala Lumpur.

"The bench warrant that's been issued will stand until he's been located and hopefully, with the assistance of foreign police, we will be able to locate him and bring him back to Australia."

But that never happened.

Mr Batham remains a ghost, accused but never convicted, on the run not just from police but from the women who want the chance to prove their stories true.

Waiting for justice

Among them is Vanessa*, who agreed to tell ABC Kimberley her story on the condition of anonymity.

She alleged Charles Batham sexually molested her when she was 10 years old.

"He became friendly with my parents," she said.

"He was definitely paying me quite a bit of attention, always keen to talk and give me presents, and get in my good books.

"He was like a sort of an uncle figure, and I trusted him."

But then, she said, he started acting inappropriately, leading to alleged abuse that she only got up the courage to report to police years later, as an adult.

"It's had a big impact on my life, and on my family's life," Vanessa said.

"It's something that I carry with me every day, and it affects me as a parent.

"It's not fair that he has escaped going to court and being held to account."

 

Interpol wanted list

So, how was Mr Batham able to escape and stay on the run for all this time?

The answer to that is complicated: due to the number of law enforcement agencies involved, Mr Batham's dual citizenship, and the fact that he was accused, but not convicted.

Glenn Hulley is a former police officer, who now runs not-for-profit organisation Project Karma, which works to combat the sexual exploitation of children overseas.

He said Mr Batham's case was particularly concerning.

"I think definitely it highlights the gaps in the system," Mr Hulley said.

"It appears the police did everything they could and obviously I'm not privy to the case.

"But from a public point of view, there have obviously been mistakes made, because he's no longer in the country and not able to face court, which is the basis of our judicial and legal system."

In simple terms, Mr Batham was able to leave because the court's bail conditions did not require him to surrender his passport and a request was not made to have him added to the Australian Border Force's 'Movement Alert List', designed to block people from leaving the country.

A 'Red Notice' issued by Interpol appears to have had little effect.

Interpol notices are colour-coded to reflect the urgency of the person being located.

According to Interpol's website, a 'Red Notice' is not as strong as an arrest warrant, but requests "law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition".

WA Police emails obtained by ABC indicate that by 2014, Mr Batham had succeeded in having a new British passport issued under a different name and was recorded boarding a plane in France.

It is not clear why Mr Batham was not detained at these times.

Western Australia's Director of Public Prosecutions has said there is no extradition process underway and would not comment on what communication they had with WA Police over Mr Batham's whereabouts.

 

Social media blackout

There are 62,000 people around the world who have been issued with a Red Notice, because they are wanted in their home country for either prosecution or to serve a sentence.

But only 11 per cent of these are listed publicly, on Interpol's internet database.

Australian authorities have only publicly listed two wanted individuals: one a 40-year-old man facing drugs charges, the second a British national accused of defrauding the Commonwealth.

The identity of the remainder are kept hush-hush, and Australian authorities will not say how many Australian fugitives there are in total.

"They're very tight-lipped with that kind of thing, so we don't have any accurate data on how many Australians would be overseas currently on the run," former policeman Mr Hulley said.

"It can be for tactical [reasons], where it's not appropriate to release someone's name because you're trying to track them … but generally speaking, I think it should be treated like most other serious crimes.

"If there is a person who is wanted by a law enforcement agency in Australia for a significant crime then that is usually made public, in order to try to garnish information from the public about where the person might be."

Those who knew Mr Batham would also like to see his name and face circulated on the internet.

 

Chris Maher said it would make sense to harness the vast powers of social media to locate him.

"It's an increasingly small world because of social media, so you'd think that would make it easy to track him down," he said.

Vanessa says she has had the same thought, when trawling the internet late at night for any trace of the man she said molested her.

"The secrecy doesn't really make sense to me; surely putting his photo out there would assist in some way with finding him," she said.

"You'd think it would be important that the community knows that there's a potential paedophile on the loose, having free rein in the world."

It is up to the arresting authority — in this case WA Police — to start the process by which red notices against specific alleged offenders can be made public.

In a response to questions from the ABC, a WA Police spokeswoman deferred to court processes.

"As you say, these are allegations and he has not been convicted," the spokeswoman said.

"If a person is convicted of child sexual offences, the court can declare them a Reportable Offender.

"If a reportable offender absconds, then their face and name can be released."

 

The eternal fugitive

Mr Batham remains an innocent man in the eyes of the law.

But Broome is an isolated town where the locals have long memories, and the questions remain.

Why did Mr Batham choose Broome? How many other allegations might have emerged if the case finally went to court? And where in the world is he holed up now?

"It's strange — I was raised to believe that bad people get caught, but it turns out that's not true," Vanessa said.

"I always hoped Charles Batham would be caught before he dies, but I don't think that's going to happen."

Editor's Note: This story has been updated for clarity, after information was incorrectly attributed to the Australian Federal Police.

* Pseudonym used for legal reasons.

 

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