Manhunt: Closing in on a British Paedophile
16 DEC 2014
***Please credit Channel 4 and Manhunt: Closing in on a British Paedophile ***
How one of Britain’s most prolific paedophiles was brought to justice
A man described by police as one of Britain’s most prolific paedophiles was convicted today after a landmark investigation by British police. It is also the first time a British man has been convicted for sex offences carried out in Africa, and only the third time an offender has been prosecuted for sex crimes committed abroad.
Simon Harris, a 55 year old man from Herefordshire faced a total of 23 charges. He was found guilty by a jury at Birmingham Crown Court of: five sexual assaults, including some against a victim as young as nine, three counts of indecent assault and four of possessing indecent images of children. He plead guilty to 6 other charges of indecent assault at the start of the trial.
He was cleared of four sexual assaults, three rapes, three attempted rapes, and one count of possessing indecent images. The jury failed to reach a verdict on a final count of rape.
The unprecedented prosecution was sparked by a Channel 4 investigation dating back to February 2013.Tonight at 10.30pm a special Channel 4 investigation, Manhunt: Closing in on a British Paedophile,reveals how this respected former teacher who has sexually abused children for decades was finally brought to justice.
The Channel 4 investigation
The story of how the British police finally caught Simon Harris began almost two years ago and 4000 miles away in Gilgil Kenya. In 2013, Channel 4’s Unreported World was making a film about a charity trying to help Kenyan street children. 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. Simon Harris divided his time between Britain and Gilgil Kenya. A former teacher, he ran an organization called Vae Kenya, which found jobs for British gap year students.
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. This information was passed on to the Kenyan authorities and the British police
Meanwhile in the UK the Unreported World team established Harris was a registered sex offender, recently jailed in Britain for taking and buying indecent photos of children, and banned from working with children for life.
Channel 4 informed the British police of the allegations that had been made. Channel 4 then asked Wael Dabbous and Channel 4 News to investigate further. In May 2013 Dabbous and Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman travelled back to Gilgil to obtain first hand testimony from street children about Harris’s abuse. They interviewed more than 10 young boys and older victims who claimed they had been abused by Harris at his home in Kenya.
Channel 4 passed on this fresh evidence to the UK police. Child Exploitation and Online Protection unit 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, the police used new powers that allow them to chase British sex offenders abusing children abroad. This was the largest operation of its kind ever undertaken, and the first to take place in Africa.
Detective Sergeant Kelvin Lay, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, says: “From the evidence that Channel 4 presented to us it was very, very clear that there was an investigation to be had. Allegations of crimes had been committed against children in Kenya, and we were duty bound then to investigate them as it was a UK national that had committed those crimes.”
In June 2013, ‘Operation Former’ began in Kenya. Accompanied by Channel 4 cameras, British and Kenyan police raided Simon Harris’s home in Gilgil, known as the Green House.
Officers then began the process of identifying victims, and began gathering testimonies. Harris was quickly arrested on the basis of detailed allegations of indecent assault. The interview process of potential victims then carried on for weeks, with police initially identifying some 70 potential victims of sexual abuse by Harris. Ultimately to facilitate the eventual court case eleven Kenyan victims were asked to testify.
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 housemaster in the 1980s. After enquiries at the school, police obtained a dossier of complaints of sexual assault by Harris against 5 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, police believe because none of the parents were willing to press charges, no police investigation took place. As a result West Mercia Police were able to charge Harris with a further 6 counts of indecent assault against three former students at the school.
Perverting the course of justice
Following his conviction for sexual offences in 2009, police obtained a foreign travel order against Harris stopping him from going abroad. However, six months into the ban, Harris appealed and presented a dossier to magistrates of letters from the Kenyan authorities claiming his activities would be monitored and he could safely be allowed to carry on visiting Kenya. Harris was successful in his appeal, and magistrates dismissed the Foreign Travel Order as a result.
During the current investigation the police have established that while Kenyan officials did send letters, Harris rewrote or heavily doctored the original documents before presenting them to court. At the time checks had been made with officials to confirm they had sent the letters, but no check was made on the documents themselves.
A legal landmark
The trial which began on October 20th 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.
Marion Bentley, Channel 4 Press Office