The sea of paparazzi that greeted Gary Glitter this morning at London's Heathrow Airport might have triggered memories of his days as a 1970s pop star. But today's hullabaloo was decidedly less glam, and not only because police escorts replaced the groupies. Glitter, born Paul Francis Gadd, 64, returns not as a musical icon, but as a disgraced pedophile, expelled from three Asian countries in as many days.
Gadd's crisscrossing of Asia started on August 19 when Vietnamese authorities deported him from Ho Chi Minh City after he served 27 months in prison for sexually abusing two girls, aged 10 and 11. But Gadd didn't want to go home to Britain. He refused to board a connecting flight in Bangkok, where Thai immigration authorities rejected his request to remain in the country, even after he claimed to have a heart attack in the departure lounge. Gadd then hopped a flight to Hong Kong, where officials once again denied him entry, sending him instead back to Thailand. After twenty hours in the Bangkok transit hall and after 2,661 miles of air travel in Southeast Asia he was finally forced on a Thai Airways flight to London.
"That time was not wasted," David Corker, Gadd's attorney, said. "It enabled Mr. Gadd and others to put into practice a plan for his proper and safe arrival here." Fearing that he could be attacked or murdered, Gadd has requested 24-hour police protection.
Known for his bouffant wigs, silver platform shoes and etched-on eyebrows, Glitter became a household name in the 1970s with hits like I'm the Leader of the Gang and Do You Wanna Touch Me? In a recent interview with the Vietnamese newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan, he said that he would like to make a comeback an unlikely prospect given that his former fans now have children they'd presumably like to protect.
Gadd hopes to clear his name. He has claimed publicly that he did not know the age of consent in Vietnam was 18, and describes his legal ordeal there as a farce. "He tells me that his trial in Vietnam . . . was a charade, was a travesty of justice," Corker said. "He's pleased to be back because there is a possibility that, for the first time, he can appear before a court of justice."
This morning his attorney spoke from a magistrate's court in Uxbridge where he failed to block a court order for Gadd to sign the national sex offenders register, which allows authorities to monitor closely his activities. Gadd will now be required to register with the local police, keep authorities abreast of any travel plans, and could face orders prohibiting him from using the Internet or going near children.
Gadd's criminal record is as checkered as his passport. In 1999, a British judge sentenced him to four months in prison after a computer serviceman discovered 4,000 images of child sex abuse on his computer. "I have served my time. I want to put it all behind me and live my life," Gadd told reporters after completing that sentence. But in 2002, after a move to Cambodia, authorities there permanently expelled Gadd from the country as a "preventative measure" to curb childhood sex abuse. In 2005 police in the southern Vietnamese coastal city of Vung Tau charged Gadd with raping two minors, punishable by death by firing squad. Gadd denied these charges, but did confess to showering with at least one girl and sharing his bed with her because she was afraid of ghosts. According to Gadd's lawyer in Vietnam, Gadd paid the victims' families $2,000 each prior to the trial, and lesser charges for sexual abuse were subsequently filed.
"His lewd acts have compromised the dignity of the Vietnamese people, law and common sense, and therefore it is necessary to punish him," Judge Hoang Thanh Tung said in his ruling, adding that Gadd suffered from "a sickness." Tung ordered him to pay the victims $315, and sentenced him to three years in prison. In February 2007, Gadd's sentence was shortened by three months for good behavior as part of a nationwide Lunar New Year jail amnesty.
Gadd's return to the U.K. has received front-page treatment by the British press, which has run headlines like, "The Unspeakable Depravity of 'Uncle Gary.'" Child advocates hope that hype will help reform a legal system which too often lets pedophiles slip through its cracks. "He's shone a spotlight on U.K. sex offenders who go overseas and off the radar, and target children where they are highly vulnerable," says Zoe Hilton, policy advisor at London-based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She's calling for governments to work more closely with one another to investigate and track sex offenders. But for Gadd, changes to the law are unlikely to make a difference, as he will be under a magnifying glass no matter where he lives. For the children of Britain, the notoriety of the former Gary Glitter may be the most sound protection of all.