Charity boss convicted of child sex abuse in east Africa was exposed by Channel 4 investigative documentary
A British former public-school teacher was on Tuesday found guilty of sexually abusing young Kenyan street children after luring them to his lavish home with offerings of food, money and the promise of education.
Simon Harris, who ran an educational charity in the east African country, would pick up boys in his Land Rover and take them back to his home, known as the Green House, where he subjected them to terrifying and humiliating sexual abuse.
One of the victims who made a complaint against Harris, 55, is believed to have killed themselves before the jury at Birmingham crown court reached its verdicts.
Police described Harris as a calculating and prolific offender, who for more than a decade targeted some of the most vulnerable children in Kenya. They said there could be many more victims there.
Harris was exposed in a Channel 4 Unreported World documentary, which led to a British police investigation. But Channel 4 has now been referred to the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, after it accidentally published an online page wrongly reporting that Harris had been convicted, before the jury had reached its verdict.
Harris, from the village of Pudleston in Herefordshire, became familiar with Kenya in the 1980s after taking British children there on trekking expeditions. He came up with the idea of running a charity in Kenya – called VAE – giving young British people the chance to teach local children during gap years.
In the witness box, Harris claimed he lived for education. “It’s fundamental,” he said. “Education is the most important thing for development in the third world.” But the prosecution said he would drive into the town of Gilgil and entice boys living rough or in very poor conditions into his white Land Rover.
Back at the Green House he would sexually abuse the boys and threaten them with death if they told anyone what he had done to them. The court heard he would beat some with sticks, ply them with alcohol and drugs and even urinate in their mouths.
Among the complainants was Michael Kamondia, who told police he had been raped by Harris when he was 15. He died earlier this month after giving evidence. The judge said his death was very sad.
Before the trial, Harris admitted indecently assaulting three teenage pupils in the 1980s at a private school, Shebbear College in Devon, where he taught Latin. He had also served a 15-month jail term after being convicted in 2009 of possessing indecent images of children.
Channel 4’s investigation led to the prosecution in a British court. In some circumstances British citizens can be tried in the UK for serious offences committed abroad. But the trial was put in jeopardy when Channel 4 published the item incorrectly claiming he had been convicted on its website. The judge said he regarded the broadcaster’s mistake as “beyond unfortunate” and has referred the matter to the attorney general to consider possible action for contempt of court.
The judge criticised police for giving pre-recorded interviews to the media, in which officers anticipated guilty verdicts, saying it rode roughshod of the police’s independence. “If it reveals there is a practice of pre-recording triumphalist police interviews boasting about success before a verdict; it is a practice that to my mind should stop,” he said. “Am I to publish my sentencing remarks to the media before verdicts on the off-chance the defendant is convicted? This is a repugnant practice.”
The trial was allowed to carry on after jurors said they had not seen the page, which included video and text. Channel 4 lawyers told the court it had only been accessed by 68 computer IP addresses, although exactly how many members of the public saw it is unclear. In a statement the broadcaster said: “Channel 4 News apologises unreservedly for publishing a draft article in error within its website. As soon as we were made aware of the error, we removed the piece.”
Police described Harris as a very dangerous sex offender and said it was possible there could be many more victims.
Det Ch Insp Damian Barrett, of West Mercia police, said: “He targeted young boys who were living on the streets in Kenya. They had a very poverty-stricken life and he’s exploited that vulnerability.” Det Insp Jon Roberts, who travelled to Kenya to interview some of the victims, said: “These aren’t just the most vulnerable children in Africa, they are some of the most vulnerable children in the world.”
Harris was convicted of three indecent assaults and five sexual assaults, with one of his five victims as young as nine. He was also found guilty of four charges of possessing indecent images of children. He was acquitted of 10 other sex offences and another charge of possessing an indecent image.