Cape Town - A wanted British paedophile has been arrested at his Green Point home where he was living a double life as a good suburban neighbour for over a decade.
Lee Nigel Tucker, 52, went on the run 15 years ago while awaiting sentencing for sexually assaulting boys in Britain.
Although a wanted fugitive, he arrived in Cape Town a few years later, bought a home on the slopes of Signal Hill and started a new life as a helicopter pilot and IT consultant.
Originally busted in Bristol in 1998 as part of a paedophile gang that targeted boys aged between 12 and 15, Tucker was found guilty in 2000 of a series of child sex assaults. While out on bail receiving treatment for a serious disease, he fled Britain and is believed to have spent time in the Far East before arriving in Cape Town in the mid-2000s.
He was sentenced in absentia to eight years in jail but his sentence was later quashed due to a technicality.
In a 2003 retrial his co-accused were convicted again.
At the time he fled justice, British police described Tucker as a dangerous fugitive and warned the public not to approach him.
Last week, acting on an Interpol arrest warrant, officers from the South African Police Crime Intelligence Unit and the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigation Unit investigated apprehending Tucker.
They found that Tucker, who is from Swansea in Wales, could not be arrested at the helicopter charter company where he had been working as he had been recently retrenched.
Further surveillance revealed that arresting Tucker at his home – a corner double-storey, semi-detached house in a road below High Level Road – would be difficult as it was protected by security gates and high, spiked walls.
So, using information that Tucker had recently reported a break-in to his garage at his local police station in Sea Point, they hatched a plan.
Posing as local police investigating the crime, officers arrived at Tucker’s home on Friday at around 8am and were welcomed in. Tucker was then arrested without disturbing any of his neighbours.
Even Piex Kalala, 24, who stays in a flatlet connected to Tucker’s house, was unaware of the arrest a few hours later.
Kalala said: “This news is freaking me out. I just don’t get it. I thought I knew Lee.”
Disbelieving neighbours were visibly traumatised when hearing about Tucker’s background and arrest. Some of them broke into tears on learning the news.
Those who agreed to be interviewed asked that their names be withheld. One long-time resident, who knew Tucker well, said: “Never, never, never. It’s not the same person. It can’t be him. We’ve had police here (investigating crimes in the road), he’s been down to the police station before… It can’t be Lee… He’s our friend, he’s our neighbour. It can’t be him.”
The neighbour, a retired nurse, added: “Lee would go out of his way if you asked him to help you with something, so it’s a terrible shock. I feel like crying I’m so shocked. He is such a nice man. An extremely nice person. This is the last thing I would have expected.
“I can’t believe that he is a dangerous paedophile who must not be approached. It’s just not Lee… And I can promise you, there were never any children visiting his house.”
Said another woman resident who was close to Tucker: “He’s a strong guy. He’s well built, He’s a gym fanatic. He wouldn’t have gone quietly and we didn’t hear anything this morning.”
“He’s a wonderful neighbour,” she added.
“He was so quiet and such a nice person, so I don’t believe it.
“When we had disturbances in the street and the police came, Lee chatted with them and interacted with them. He wasn’t frightened of the police. That’s why I find this so hard to believe. The police were here last week taking a statement from Lee after his garage was broken into.”
With tears in her eyes the woman, a retired widow who has lived in the road for decades, recounted how Tucker often came to her aid.
“Lee always used to help me whenever I had a problem with my computer. He was a pilot but he was also an IT specialist. “
Another shocked neighbour renting nearby, who didn’t know Tucker by name, described him as “a private guy who kept to himself. I would never have guessed he was a fugitive from justice”.
The young neighbour related a story about a former tenant in his house who had to return to Germany in hurry because of an expired visa. The tenant left his motorcycle standing on the pavement until Tucker took the matter into his own hands.
“The bike was parked here for about two months waiting for the guy to come back and then one day it disappeared. I found out that the bloke from number 1A had taken it and put it in his garage and then later sold it on Gumtree without any papers.”
Tucker shared his house with a 27-year-old South African, whom, residents said, was either his boyfriend or friend. Known only as Mo, he refused to be interviewed.
A keen cyclist, Tucker worked out regularly at Green Point Virgin Active.
He was also a regular at Giovanni’s, a popular Italian delicatessen located in Main Road less than five minutes drive from his house.
One staff member, who did not want to be named after identifying Tucker in a photograph, said: “I’m shocked to hear he is a wanted paedophile. I didn’t know him by name but he was a regular customer. He was a quiet guy who came here for lunch with a group of friends of his age.
“He never spoke much and I never got the sense of anything untoward about him. He was just another regular. I think it’s ridiculous that someone like him can live here for so long and get away with it, especially when there is so much social media. He should have been flagged and picked up when he got his licence or bought his house.”
Tucker is currently being held at a Cape Town police station. In the first part of his extradition process, he is due to appear in court this week.