Former public school house master Simon Harris is convicted of sexually abusing Kenyan boys as young as 10 while running a teaching charity in east Africa.
Simon Harris, 55, from Herefordshire, was found guilty by a jury at Birmingham crown court of five sexual assaults and three indecent assaults against children as young as 10. He was also convicted of possession of four indecent images, but was acquitted of 10 charges, including four rapes and two attempted rapes.
Mr Harris had already pleaded guilty to six charges of indecent assault against three boys at a boarding school in Devon in the late 1980s.
It is also the first time a British man has been convicted for sex offences carried out in Africa, and Harris is only the third offender to be prosecuted for sex crimes committed abroad in what has been a landmark case for the British police.
The story of how the British police finally caught Simon Harris began almost two years ago and 4,000 miles away in Gilgil, Kenya. In 2013, Channel 4’s Unreported World was making a film about a charity trying to help the hundreds of children who live on the streets of Gilgil.
During filming with social workers from the Restart children’s charity, producer/director Wael Dabbous discovered that some of the children they had filmed were living in fear of a white British man called Simon Harris. Physical and sexual abuse was alleged. Working with Dan Nderitu, a social worker at the Restart centre, Wael Dabbous began gathering evidence from street children who alleged they had been sexually abused by Harris.
Returning to Britain Wael decided to investigate Simon Harris, who split his time between Kenya and Britain. He discovered that in the UK Harris was a registered sex offender, jailed in Britain in 2009 for taking and buying indecent photos of children, and banned from working with children for life. Wael and producers at Quicksilver Media approached Channel 4 News to take up the story.
In May 2013 Wael and Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman travelled back to Gilgil to obtain first-hand testimony from street children. They interviewed more than 10 young boys and older victims who claimed they had been abused by Harris at his home in Kenya.
Alerted to our investigation in Kenya, in May 2013 West Mercia Police arrested Harris at his UK home for a breach of his sex offender’s licence, a charge that would prevent him from leaving the country while they carried out further inquiries. Meanwhile the evidence gathered by Channel 4 News was provided to officers at the police Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) unit.
Ceop officers, working with West Mercia Police, then set in motion an extraordinary operation to gather evidence against Simon Harris in Kenya. Working with the Kenyan authorities, this was the largest operation of its kind ever undertaken, and the first to take place in Africa.
In June 2013, “Operation Former” began in Kenya. British and Kenyan police raided Simon Harris’s home in Gilgil, known as the Green House. In the course of the raid, police recovered camera equipment and computer equipment that was to prove important to the case.
Officers then began the process of identifying victims, and started gathering testimonies. This process was carried out over weeks, with police initially identifying some 70 potential victims of sexual abuse by Harris. Within days of the raid, Harris was arrested at his Herefordshire home and charged with attempted rape and sexual activity with a child against two children in Kenya. Further charges were to follow.
In the course of their investigations, West Mercia Police officers began examining Harris’s history in the UK. In December 2013 they travelled to Shebbear College, in Devon, where Simon Harris had worked as a house master in the 1980s. After enquiries at the school, police obtained a dossier of complaints of sexual assault by Harris against five students at the college.
The school had reported the allegations to the Department for Education, and Harris had been barred from working in state schools. The school also informed Devon and Cornwall Police. However because no-one was willing to press charges, no police investigation took place. As a result West Mercia Police were able to charge Harris with a further six counts of indecent assault against three boys at the school. Harris pleaded guilty to these offences at the start of his trial.
Further examination of Harris’s computers by West Mercia Police further revealed that Harris had forged documents in order to overturn a ban preventing him from travelling to Kenya by police. Following his conviction for sexual offences in 2009, police monitored Harris after he was released from prison. In 2010 they discovered he was in contact with one of his victims in Kenya, and on that basis applied for a foreign travel order to prevent him from travelling to Kenya for a period of five years.
However, six months into the ban, Harris appealed and presented a dossier to magistrates claiming he had reassurances from the Kenyan authorities that he was no longer a danger to children and should be allowed to return.
Harris was successful in his appeal, and magistrates dismissed the foreign travel order as a result. It was only after police seized Harris’s computers in 2013 that it became clear that he had doctored crucial documents from Kenya in order to get his passport back. Police decided not to pursue charges.
The trial, which began on 20 October this year, was a legal landmark. Many of the victims were street children with no formal address and no means of contact. Finding and locating them was a challenge. In order to present their evidence to court, officers had to set up a makeshift and secret courtroom in a small hotel in Kenya with a video link to the court in Birmingham. Nothing like it had been attempted before.
Speaking in their native Swahili, the boys, with little or no formal education, were subjected to examination and cross-examination through translation over the video link. However, each witness turned up as requested and was able to give evidence. Wael Dabbous was also called as a witness.
Jon Roberts, from West Mercia Police, said: “Simon Harris is the most prolific sexual offender against children that I’ve ever encountered.”
This investigation was produced and directed by the film-maker Wael Dabbous, working with Quicksilver Media, the makers of Unreported World. The investigation was commissioned by Channel 4 News, and reported by Cathy Newman. The Channel 4 documentary Manhunt was a produced by Quicksilver Media and Channel 4 News.