26 Feb 2015

Simon Harris jailed for 17 years for Kenya child abuse

Former public school teacher Simon Harris is jailed for 17 years and four months after being convicted of abusing vulnerable street children in Kenya.

(Cathy Newman’s report after Simon Harris’ conviction in December 2014)

Harris, who ran a charity in Kenya and was described by West Mercia police as the “most prolific sexual offender against children” they had ever encountered, was convicted at Birmingham crown court in December after victims’ evidence was heard via video link to Kenya.

The 55-year-old, from Pudleston, near Leominster, in Herefordshire, had denied luring boys to his home near Gilgil, Kenya, between 2002 and May 2013 with promises of food, money and education.

You walked on water. But none of them knew you had a sexual motive. Judge Philip Parker QC

But he was found guilty of five sexual assaults and three indecent assaults against children, with one victim thought to be as young as nine. He was also convicted of four charges of possessing indecent images of children.

He had already admitted six charges of indecent assault against three boys at a boarding school in Devon in the late 1980s. He also spent 15 months in a British jail for possession of indecent images of children following a 2009 conviction.

Judge Philip Parker QC told Harris: “You designed your life to be close to boys – it suited you to be in education. It gave you kudos and it also provided a source of boys.”

The judge continued: “”You assumed a hallowed position among the locals. You were revered as someone who could provide the gift of education.

“You were answerable to no-one – and once again you had access to boys.”

The judge added that Harris’s charity work in education meant “no-one batted an eyelid” when he washed boys, and allowed youngsters to sleep in his bedroom at the remote home he owned on the outskirts of the town of Gilgil.

“You walked on water. But none of them knew you had a sexual motive.”

First time

It is the first time a British man has been convicted for sex offences carried out in Africa, and Simon 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 allegations against Harris in Kenya were first investigated in 2013 by producer/director Wael Dabbous while he was making a film for Channel 4’s Unreported World.

When he returned to the UK, Mr Dabbous discovered that 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.

In May 2013, working with Quicksilver Media, he joined forces with Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman and 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 operation to gather evidence against Harris in Kenya. Alongside the Kenyan authorities, this was the largest operation of its kind ever undertaken, and the first to take place in Africa.

Home raided

In June 2013, Operation Former began in Kenya. British and Kenyan police raided Harris’ 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.

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.

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.