DIPLOMAT Robert Coghlan was convicted yesterday of smuggling a large consignment of ``depraved'' child pornography into Britain.

The Aberdeen-born father-of-two was remanded in custody until this morning, when he will be sentenced by Judge Gerald Butler QC, at Southwark Crown Court.

Divorcee Coghlan, 54, had desperately tried to prevent his ``precious'' hoard of tapes from falling into the hands of Customs men.

Although he faces up to seven years in jail, he showed no reaction, apart from biting his lip and an all-but-unnoticeable shake of his head as the jury at the south London court returned its unanimous guilty verdict after just 52 minutes.

As he was led to the cells below, Coghlan, of Islington, north London, turned to his eldest son, Steven, in the public gallery, shrugged, and managed a brief smile.

The disgraced diplomat, who spent four-and-a-half years as First Secretary in the British Embassy's information department in Japan, was found guilty of one charge under the Customs and Excise Management Act, 1979.

The charge said that last March he was ``knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of the prohibition on importation'' of indecent and obscene material.

Crown counsel Nigel Lithman told the court: ``It would seem that in Japan he had something of a dual existence, that he was something of a Jekyll and Hyde character - sometimes a respectable representative of the country, at other times visiting specialist sex shops, buying the most profane type of paedophile material, until he had accumulated this large collection.''

At times he swopped tapes with others who shared his interest, but no evidence has ever emerged that he was part of a paedophile ring.

Coghlan's sordid secret was uncovered only when suspicious Customs men searched his luggage. The luggage was being temporarily stored at a depot in Essex after arriving from Japan, and was due to be sent on to Madrid, where he was to have taken up another First Secretary position.

The Customs officers unearthed 109 obscene videos, 70 of which contained what the prosecution branded as ``paedophilic depravity''. The judge called them ``vile and sickening''.

Mr Lithman said the hundreds of yards of explicit and overwhelmingly homosexual footage depicted nothing less than ``tragic and humiliating'' abuse of children. Photographs, magazines and brochures of a similar nature were also found.

Coghlan, who has two grown-up sons and divorced his wife, Maureen, 20 years ago, vehemently denied he was a paedophile.

He insisted that he had built up the collection quite unintentionally, claiming it had not been possible to ascertain exactly what the Japanese-labelled videos contained before buying them - an assertion dismissed by the Crown as a ``grotesque lie''.

He was not, he claimed, interested in children for sex and always fast-forwarded scenes involving minors.

The central plank of his failed defence was that he was convinced his goods would be sent direct to Spain. It never occurred to him that they would come to Britain first.

He agreed he lied on a Customs clearance form, falsely asserting that he had no prohibited goods among his belongings, but only because he felt he had no alternative after learning to his dismay his belongings were homeward-bound.

Coghlan also maintained that, when he learned he was to leave Japan, he had racked his brains to think of a way of disposing of the tapes.

But a combination of long hours and a conviction that he was being kept under surveillance - possibly by Japanese police - conspired against him, he claimed.

After the case, a Foreign Office spokesman said: ``It is too early to comment on his career, but we will obviously have to take into account the outcome of the trial and consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate in the circumstances. We view this as a very serious matter.''

n.Robert Coghlan accompanied the Princess of Wales during her solo visit to Japan last year.

But the high-flying diplomat missed out on a leading role as the princess's ``chaperon'', because he was on holiday when Buckingham Palace officials travelled to Tokyo to plan the visit.

Another, less senior, member of the embassy staff stepped into the limelight.

Coghlan, however, was introduced to the princess and helped liaise with members of the press, on occasions acting as a translator.

In a career spanning 30 years, Coghlan represented British interests across the globe. A gifted linguist, speaking French, German, Portuguese, Serbo-Croat, Spanish and some Japanese, he began work at the Passport Office in 1961.

He moved to the Foreign Office two years later, and postings followed to Belgrade and Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia, Cuba, Japan and Switzerland.

He returned to London in 1981, working as Second Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, before returning to Tokyo in 1984.

There he rose to become First Secretary in the commercial department, a middle-ranking position inside the Embassy.

He was later transferred in the same post to Sao Paulo, Brazil, before returning for a third time to Tokyo in July 1991, this time as First Secretary in the information section.

It was in this post that he came into contact with the Princess of Wales, as she spent four days on a semi-official trip to the country.