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UK charity boss Simon Harris jailed for Kenya child sex abuse

Simon Harris Image copyright West Mercia Police
Image caption Simon Harris committed offences while running a charity in Gilgil, in Kenya's Rift Valley

A British charity boss who abused Kenyan street children after luring them to his home has been jailed for more than 17 years.

Simon Harris, 55, carried out sex attacks on boys in the town of Gilgil, between 1996 and 2013.

Harris, of Pudleston, near Leominster, was head of charity VAE, which placed volunteers in Kenyan schools.

He was convicted of eight counts of indecent and sexual assault, at Birmingham Crown Court in December.

The case is one of the first of its kind using legislation that allows British citizens to be tried for sex offences committed abroad if it is also an offence in that country.

'Hallowed position'

Harris was also convicted of four counts of possessing indecent images of children.

He was, however, cleared of 10 further charges, including rape.

The jury failed to reach a verdict on one remaining count of rape and the judge discharged them of their duty in relation to that.

Harris, a former classics teacher, had preyed on "very small children who have no families, nobody to look after them... sheltering in doorways" with the promise of food and shelter, the jury heard.

Judge Phillip Parker QC described him as "intelligent" and "charismatic", giving him "a veneer of respectability", which enabled him to design his life to be close to boys.

In Kenya, Harris had assumed a "hallowed" position, accountable to no-one, that allowed him to abuse street children who were amongst the most vulnerable in the world, the judge said.

Image caption Harris committed offences at his home near Gilgil, known as "The Green House"

"It had been urged upon me that I should give you credit for all the charitable work you introduced to Kenya but I am afraid, when your so-called charity work is the vehicle for abuse, I cannot buy into this concept," the judge said.

He described Harris as "a significant risk" to young boys and his Kenyan victims had been left "used, degraded, and humiliated".

Travel ban lifted

"The mental scars will almost certainly never heal," Judge Parker said.

Defence QC Jeremy Dein had told the court that Harris's charity work should not be entirely discounted, describing him as "an exceptional philanthropist."

"He is ashamed of his behaviour - both as a teacher and when in Kenya," he said.

The abuse came to light after evidence was passed on by a Channel 4 documentary team making a film about the plight of Gilgil's street children.

Officers from the National Crime Agency, who travelled to Kenya in a bid to trace Harris's victims, described him as "one of the most prolific child sex offenders" they had ever encountered.

It emerged during his trial that Harris had been banned from travelling abroad after a 2009 conviction for possession of indecent images of children, for which he served 15 months in jail.

However, the jury heard he successfully appealed to have the ban lifted, allowing him to travel back and forth to Kenya, where he abused more boys, until he was eventually arrested back in the UK in June 2013, by West Mercia Police.

Image copyright West Mercia Police
Image caption Simon Harris successfully challenged a ban preventing him travelling overseas, after a 2009 conviction for possessing indecent images of children

Speaking after the conviction, officers said they had identified a number of potential victims during their inquiry but believe Harris could have abused hundreds of boys.

"The convictions and today's sentence sends an important message to people who have been the victim of crimes such as these to come forward, because time and geography is no barrier to justice," Det Ch Insp Damian Barrett said.

Lawyers representing Kenya victims also welcomed the sentence.

"This case is the first time a British man has been convicted for sex offences carried out in Africa, and should serve as a warning to paedophiles looking to sexually abuse children overseas, believing they are beyond the law," Nichola Marshall, from law firm Leigh Day, said.

Harris's trial is thought to be the first involving the use of live video link technology from Africa to hear evidence.

He had denied all the offences in Kenya, but before his trial got under way he admitted six offences of indecent assault against three boys, aged between 13 and 14, when he was a teacher at Shebbear College, Devon in the 1980s.

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