Paedophile had links with child photographer

Fugitive who molested SA youngsters helped at controversial art studio
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The Independent Online
A society children's photographer at the centre of an art-or-pornography debate used a fugitive paedophile as a helper in his studio.

Ron Oliver, whose pictures of children are lauded by the art world but frowned upon by police, used the services of Greg Potter while Mr Potter was on the run from South African police for molesting children and taking pornographic photographs of them.

Mr Oliver said this week that he did not know of Mr Potter's past, or of his obsession with children.

"This will do my case no good whatsoever, but I didn't know anything about him," he said. "I didn't employ him full time. I just allowed him to run errands."

He said that Mr Potter had never been with him at photographic sessions, although the professional relationship with Mr Oliver will rekindle debate over whether some of Mr Oliver's photographs could excite paedophiles.

Mr Oliver, 37, became a cause celebre in 1993 when police raided his studio in west London, seized more than 20,000 photographs and arrested him on suspicion of taking indecent pictures of children under 16.

He is an established portrait photographer who specialises in taking pictures, some of them nude, of the children of mainly wealthy professionals.

Advertising in Vogue and Harpers & Queen, he numbers members of the House of Lords, whom he will not name, among his clients. None of the children's names was published.

A debate raged for months after his arrest over whether his work constituted art or pornography. Art experts praised the beauty and clarity of his images.

He was questioned by police, released on bail and fled to the Netherlands with his family, arguing that if he returned to Britain, the police would harass him. A warrant was issued for his arrest last year on evidence presented to a magistrate, although it is understood that only a handful of pictures out of the thousands seized were considered sensitive enough to put before the magistrate. Aside from that, his case had gone cold.

However, inquiries by The Independent have established that Mr Potter, 39, was arrested at Mr Oliver's studio during the initial raid. Mr Potter was questioned by police but released on bail. He, too, jumped bail. Since then, another warrant has been issued for his arrest on suspicion of sexually assaulting three children in Britain.

While in South Africa, the Zimbabwe-born Mr Potter was wanted by police for allegedly taking pornographic pictures of children and for sexually assaulting them.

He would advertise in magazines for subjects between eight and 13. Themes advertised included "Victorian clothing, water-babies and farmyard fun". By the time he fled in 1989, statements had been taken from 13 children and police were asking for other possible victims to come forward.

Before that, in 1985, he was given a five-year suspended sentence by magistrates in Durban for sexually assaulting nine children who attended his Sunday school classes. After divorcing him, Linda Potter, 37, told one interviewer that she believed he married her only so that he could molest her eight-year-old sister. Mrs Potter's sister said she was sexually abused for four years without Mrs Potter's knowledge.

Childline in Durban said that Mr Potter targeted widows and divorcees with children whom he would later molest. In Britain, police believe he used the same methods, befriending single mothers in supermarkets and then sexually assaulting their children. "We consider him to be very dangerous," one officer said.

Speaking from Paris, where he now lives with his wife, Vanessa, and their three children, Mr Oliver said he knew nothing about Mr Potter's past or about the warrant issued for his own arrest last year.

Mr Oliver said he was concerned that Mr Potter's involvement might lead some to find him "guilty by association", but he continues vehemently to protest that he is innocent, and he is still taking photographs of clients' children from all over Europe.

Scores of those who pay about pounds 2,000 for a portfolio of their children have written glowing testimonials, while artistic praise for his images continues to grow.

"Potter was just someone who ran errands for me," Mr Oliver said. "He wrote to me saying he was an amateur photographer and asked if he could come and speak to me.

"He wasn't the first person to do that - lots of people, particularly photography students, did. Anyway, he ended up running errands for me, picking up contact sheets and film.

"But he wasn't an assistant or anything like that, and he never went on any jobs with me to see clients. He wasn't a professional, so he didn't assist me professionally. He just did odd jobs and I paid him by the hour.

"I had absolutely no idea that he had any record. I would be the last person he would tell because he would have known that I'd have had nothing to do with him if he'd told me."

The police said yesterday that they would like to interview Mr Oliver again. However, he said that he was unlikely to come back, because his work would suffer. It does not appears likely that any attempt will be made to extradite him since there is no offence under French law similar to that of taking indecent pictures of children under the age of 16.