The Times, 6th September 1996
by Stephen Farrell
A SENIOR British diplomat who smuggled paedophile videos into the country was in jail last night, facing a sentence of up to seven years. Robert Coghlan, 54, will be sentenced today after a jury at Southwark Crown Court found him guilty of importing 109 obscene tapes, 70 containing child pornography, in March this year.
Customs investigators said he was part of a secret international paedophile network. They described the videos as among the worst they had seen. Coghlan showed no emotion when the seven men and five women took less than an hour to reach a verdict after a three-day trial.
After the case James McGregor, deputy chief investigation officer for HM Customs, said there was little doubt that Coghlan belonged to a paedophile ring. “It is a secretive network in which people work by making, exchanging and selling this sort of material. I have no reason to suppose that Coghlan was any different.”
Coghlan, a fluent linguist with 33 years in the Diplomatic Service, accompanied Diana, Princess of Wales on her visit to Japan in February last year. He has been suspended on normal pay since his arrest and last night the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it would decide on disciplinary action after sentencing.
He was arrested on March 26 at a friend’s house in Islington, north London, after customs officers made a routine search of a warehouse in Barking, east London. Events began in August last year when Coghlan learnt he was to be posted to Spain. As his belongings were packed by a shipping agency in Yokohama, Japan, he went on a tour of the Far East and Australia, including two trips to Bangkok. He then returned to London.
The goods were sent to Southampton to go into storage in Barking before being sent on to Madrid. Coghlan signed a Customs and Excise form saying he had no prohibited goods to declare.
He denied being a paedophile and pleaded not guilty to a charge of fraudulent evasion of the prohibition on importing obscene material under the 1979 Customs and Excise Management Act. When interviewed, he admitted knowing the tapes were indecent but claimed he did not know they contained paedophile material and insisted that he always fast- forwarded past scenes involving juveniles.
He told the jury that he considered disposing of the tapes but feared he was being followed by Japanese police whenever he left the embassy. He never thought to erase the tapes.
The prosecution dismissed his claim not to have known what he was buying, pointing out that he was a trained linguist who spoke Japanese, French, German, Portuguese and Serbo-Croat.
Nigel Lithman, for the prosecution, said Coghlan spent four years painstakingly building up his collection at the expense of young children exploited and abused by the film-makers. “In Japan it would seem that Coghlan had something of a dual existence. He was something of a Jekyll and Hyde character.”
Coghlan, who was born in Aberdeen, started work in the Passport Office and married his wife, Maureen, in 1963 when both were Foreign Office clerical workers. They divorced 20 years ago. His sons, Andrew and Steven, accompanied him to court, but made no comment afterwards.
See also: Diplomat ‘had child sex tapes’