A British charity boss who travelled to Kenya to abuse boys could rival Jimmy Savile as one of Britain’s most prolific child-sex offenders, police say. Simon Harris, 55, abused ‘thousands’ of street children for years despite being a registered sex offender, a landmark case has revealed.
Yesterday he was found guilty of eight charges of indecent and sexual assault on five homeless Kenyan boys – one of whom was just nine. But police believe the abuse carried out by Harris, who formerly worked as a teacher in a British private school, could have spanned four decades, and the number of victims could be ‘in the thousands’.
A total of 46 Kenyan homeless children testified against Harris, but police say this number is ‘just a drop in the ocean’.
The boys Harris targeted were subjected to horrific ordeals for hours on end in his luxury Kenyan home. One of his alleged victims – who bravely gave evidence from Kenya via Skype – was so traumatised by his ordeal that he killed himself during the proceedings, a fact that was revealed to the jury only yesterday.
Charities last night demanded to know why Harris – described as a manipulative, predatory and dangerous abuser – was able to travel freely to Kenya. There were also questions over why, despite signing the sex offenders’ register in the 1980s, he was unmonitored there and able to gain access to dozens of vulnerable children.
A serious case review is under way into how he was able to slip through the net of West Mercia Police and social services. Another review will look at whether legislation needs to be tightened over travel bans for sex offenders.
Police had been aware of the former Latin teacher as early as 1989, after reports of inappropriate behaviour towards children at Shebbear College, a boarding school in Devon. He was not prosecuted as parents did not want to put their children through a court case, but his notes would have been kept on record.
He was jailed and placed on the sex offenders’ register for life in 2009 for possession of child pornography. He was also issued with a Foreign Travel Order – which bans sex offenders from travelling abroad. But he is alleged to have overturned this in a magistrates’ court by forging documents from Kenya claiming he could travel.
Between the early 1990s and the spring of 2013, the paedophile spent six months a year in the Kenyan town of Gilgil. He ran a charity called VAE, which helped arrange teaching placements in Kenya for British gap-year students.
Police say Harris used the charity to offer a presentable face to the community. But Birmingham Crown Court heard how he took groups of street boys to his luxurious home in the hills, known as the ‘Green House’.
His victims told how he enticed them with the offer of sweets and food. Once there, he plied them with drugs and alcohol, bathed them and rubbed them in oils before sexually assaulting them, a jury was told. Those he ‘fancied’ would sleep in his bed – unclothed so ‘they would not dirty his sheets’.
One boy told the court Harris threatened to kill him if he ever spoke of the horrific abuse.
Harris was initially tried in relation to assaults on nine street children – he was acquitted of attacks on four of these children yesterday. But since his trial began in October, 46 alleged victims have come forward, police revealed last night.
Kelvin Lay, the senior investigating officer for the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), said he believed this was ‘just a drop in the ocean’.
‘Harris is among the most prolific child sex offenders I have ever known,’ he said outside court. ‘He hoped that by targeting the most vulnerable children in a rural location in Africa, he would get away with it. Given a culture of extreme taboo regarding homosexuality in Kenya, we think those who have testified is only a very, very small fraction of his total number of victims.’
Mr Lay compared Harris to Savile, saying: ‘I don’t think there is anyone else with this many potential victims out there.’
One witness in the trial, Dan Ndiritu, who runs a Kenyan charity, Restart – which now cares for many of the boys who were allegedly abused – says he reported Harris to Kenyan police ten years ago.
But the offences came to light only when a street child spoke to Channel 4 documentary-makers who were filming in Gilgil last year.
Weeks later an inquiry was launched by West Mercia Police and CEOP. Several more children came forward to complain about Harris and he was charged in July 2013. Harris – who lived in a cottage in Pudleston near Leominster, Herefordshire, before he moved permanently to Gilgil – was charged with additional offences linked to Kenya in October 2013.
Mr Ndiritu told the Daily Mail: ‘I had suspicions for many years. He would pick boys up in his car most days and I would see him smoking bang (cannabis) with them. No one knows how many victims he has, because most boys are too ashamed to talk, but I think there could be thousands. Many were sexually abused several times – they would go back because they wanted food and they wanted money. They felt they didn’t have a choice.’
He added that, tragically, most of these boys are now assaulting younger boys.
Harris was yesterday convicted of three indecent assaults, five sexual assaults and four charges of possessing indecent images of children. He was acquitted of a further ten charges.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on one charge of rape of a nine-year-old. Harris appeared alarmed when some of the ‘not guilty’ verdicts were read out and nodded his head upon hearing ‘guilty’ verdicts. It emerged last night that one young Kenyan man who testified against Harris is believed to have committed suicide during the court case.
Michael Kamondia died on December 7, just days before the jury retired to consider their verdicts. The charge relating to Mr Kamondia’s allegation was withdrawn midway through the trial because of a legal technicality.
Harris also pleaded guilty to six counts of indecent assault against three boys between the ages of 13 and 14 at Shebbear between 1986 and 1989.
The case was adjourned to January 30 for sentencing.
Harris's offending in Kenya stretched over 11 years, between 2002 and 2013.
He was only brought to justice after an investigation by the National Crime Agency and the police force into the former teacher's movements in Kenya, in what is understood to be one of West Mercia's Police most expensive ever criminal inquiries.
The force's Detective Chief Inspector Damian Barrett said: 'There's no doubt he targeted young boys who were living on the streets in Kenya,' said Mr Barrett.
'They had a very poverty-stricken life and he's exploited that vulnerability such that I think they suffered the offending against them because of the benefits they had.'
He added that Harris, who was living in Kenya running gap-year teaching charity VAE, 'created an environment allowing him to groom those around him, enabling him to commit sexual offences. He's a very dangerous individual'.
Police said what made Harris's offending all the worse was that his vulnerable victims were given a choice between a desperately hard life on the streets of the nearby town or going home with their abuser.
Mr Barrett said the victims 'did not like what was taking place' but were 'putting up with the offending' because he would feed and pay the boys for doing chores around his house, and in some cases put them through school - which costs money in Kenya.
Detective Inspector Jon Roberts, who travelled to trace Harris's Kenyan victims, said the former teacher 'deceived friends' and fabricated the cover story of a benevolent charity educator to get what he wanted.
The officer, experienced with child abuse cases, said Harris's method of targeting such vulnerable children had been 'difficult to come to terms with'.
Det Insp Roberts described their abuser as a man who 'not only groomed these children, but ... has lied to his friends about his previous conviction to cover up the abuse he's been meting out'.
He described Harris's charity VAE which brought English students in to teach in deprived Kenyan schools as 'a cover story' and 'part of his grooming process to abuse these children'.
Of the youngsters, Mr Roberts said he observed their gruelling daily existence just to survive life in the shanty town of Gilgil 'living in the gutter, in shop doorways and sleeping rough'.
'These aren't just the most vulnerable children in Africa, they are some of the most vulnerable children in the world and that's difficult to come to terms with,' he added.
Paedophile private school teacher 'as bad as Savile': He abused thousands of Kenyan boys over four decades, say police as he is convicted of eight indecent and sexual assault charges LUCY OSBORNE FOR THE DAILY MAIL RICHARD SPILLETT FOR MAILONLINE 16 December 2014Tweet