Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty on four counts of indecency with a child

 

An internationally renowned artist from Cornwall has been found guilty of a string of sex offences against children.

Graham Ovenden, who studied under the so-called "Godfather of Pop-Art" Sir Peter Blake, was not in court to see the jury forewoman return the verdicts having been taken ill.

A jury of seven men and five women at Truro Crown Court found Ovenden guilty of six charges of indecency with a child and one allegation of indecent assault.

They acquitted him of two indecent assaults.

The jury earlier found Ovenden not guilty of three charges of indecent assault on the direction of Judge Graham Cottle.

Ovenden, of The Garage in Barley Splatt, near Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, denied all the charges relating to four children - now all adults - between 1972 and 1985.

Judge Graham Cottle adjourned sentence until a date to be fixed but said the hearing would take place at Plymouth Crown Court. Ovenden was released on bail.

He was not in court having been taken ill over the weekend.

Christopher Quinlan QC, defending, told the judge that Ovenden was resting at home having received treatment at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.

The 70-year-old's artwork - much celebrated in galleries across the world at the height of his commercial popularity - includes portraits of nude children.

But he denied indecency, disputing claims that he had a sexual interest in children and allegations by four witnesses that he abused them as young models.

Ovenden described himself in court as a modest man, but told police he had a "major reputation" for creating "some of the best portraits of children in the last 200 years".

He also declared himself one of the "two or three great printers" in the world, citing his work being published in numerous books and having been hung in some of the world's finest galleries.

But the court heard his portraiture formed part of a ruse for abusing girls, making them dress in Victorian clothing before removing it and committing indecent acts.

The incidents, dating back 40 years, took place at his former home in Hounslow, London, as well as at his current address in north Cornwall, where he had a studio.

Prosecutor Ramsay Quaife told the court: "What we (the Crown Prosecution Service) say is that Mr Ovenden is a paedophile, that is a sexual abuser of children. In this case we say the target of his abuse was young girls.

"All four of the claimants are now adult women. Their allegations go back some years, but at the time they were all girls."

Ovenden spoke frankly from the witness box, quoting biblical and literary works in explaining his use of naked children as part of his "state of grace" body of work.

He also described the "neuroses" of the prosecutor, and the "witch-hunt" that plagued the art world from those who disagreed with the naked child form.

Referring to one of his subjects, an alleged victim in the case who cannot be named for legal reasons, he said: "(She) was a beautiful child - not only as she was, as you see her in front of a camera, but also as a person.

"It think it is important that someone pays homage to that and place her in a state of grace.

"I think holding those things, by photography or painting, is a moral obligation."

In a nod to English poet William Blake, Ovenden described the "state of grace" as "a thing of wondrous beauty".

In one of several references to Christianity in court, he said: "We're not born with trousers, skirts, shirts and shoes. One of the great qualities of art is to go back to the great point, the Garden of Eden."

He also told the court how he was also asked to take pictures of his subjects, including nude children.

He told the court: "I have to say the absolute witch-hunt which is going on at the moment - and the idea of a child naked is something to be frowned upon - is absolutely abhorrent."

Mr Quaife told the trial how the victims posed for Ovenden. They made formal complaints to police in the late 2000s and he was arrested in 2008.

Witnesses described how Ovenden would take his victims into his studio and make them wear Victorian-style clothing, before it was removed. He would also cover their eyes before abusing them, they told the court.

Asked by Mr Quinlan whether he found children sexually interesting, Ovenden replied simply: "No."

He also denied abusing his victims. He said a blindfold used in one of his works had a religious significance - being removed to "show the revelation of Christ through light".

Ovenden said his home in Cornwall was a place where writers, musicians and artists would gather.

Children, he said, would regularly discard their clothes when they were playing at the home, often accompanied on visits by parents.

However, one witness told the court his home was also the setting for Ovenden's abuse of her.

Speaking from behind a screen, the woman said: "We would have to go through this strange ritual.

"The building itself was very unusual. It is like no other house you've ever seen. Colour, turrets, arched windows. They also had quite a lot of visitors."

She said she blanked out the memories from her childhood, although she had previously told her mother she didn't like being photographed by Ovenden.

The court heard the victims only came forward as adults in the 2000s - although two returned to Barley Splatt years after they were abused to have their picture taken by Ovenden and to attend an exhibition there.

Mr Quinlan asked one of the victims: "If he (Ovenden) had done that to you, why did you go back to visit him?"

The woman replied: "I don't know."

She added: "You're not going to break me. I'm sticking by my story."

When asked by Mr Quaife why she did not tell anyone about what happened, she replied: "It's only when you get older you realise. It is unnatural, weird, scary and I didn't want to do it.

"I'm sure I won't be the first or last kid to keep some horrible secret from people."

The court was also shown images said to have been recovered from Ovenden's computer by police, apparently showing girls in various positions.

Ovenden described the images as "utterly vile" and said they showed "the destruction of childhood".

But he also said they were unfinished and had been removed from context. He said police, in printing them, had been the first publishers of the work.

Mr Quaife said the suggestion that they were works in progress was "a convenient cover story".

Ovenden replied: "More, Mr Quaife, your visual illiteracy."

The prosecutor said: "The truth is you're sexually besotted with young girls. The proof of your obsessions are your images."

Ovenden denied the allegation, adding that he had not taken a photograph of a girl for 24 years.

Although he has since sold Barley Splatt, he remains on the sprawling estate as he lives in a converted outbuilding next to the turreted main home, known as The Garage.

Ovenden was convicted on charges relating to three of the four women who made complaints against him.

He was acquitted of an allegation of indecent assault made by the fourth woman.

PA

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