Prolific British child sex abuser who targeted African street children is convicted

16 December 2014

A prolific child abuser who posed as a volunteer charity worker to groom and sexually exploit vulnerable street children in Africa has been convicted, following an investigation involving West Mercia Police and the NCA's CEOP Command

Simon Harris, 55, from Pudlestone in Herefordshire, travelled to the rural town of Gilgil in Kenya to target his victims, offering them chocolate, sweets, clothes and a place to sleep for the night. Birmingham Crown Court heard that, having gained their trust, he abused the boys, often plying them with alcohol and leading them to believe that the abuse they suffered was "normal".

The jury heard direct from some of his victims, who gave evidence via international video link from Kenya.

The case is the first time legislation, designed for prosecuting British nationals for committing sexual crimes overseas, has been used for offences reported in Africa.

Kelvin Lay, senior investigation officer from the NCA's CEOP Command, said: “Harris is among the most prolific child sex offenders I have ever come across and the precise number of his victims may never be known.

“His actions were extremely calculated. He hoped that by targeting the most vulnerable children in a rural location in Africa he would get away with it. His mistake was to underestimate our determination to track down and bring to account UK nationals who commit abuse, be that in the UK or abroad.

“This investigation was extremely complex and I would like to thank our partners at West Mercia Police and the CPS, as well as those in Kenya - the High Commission, National Police, International Justice Mission and Cradle - all of whom played vital roles.

“However, most of all I pay tribute to the victims who had the bravery to stand up against Harris and give evidence.”

NCA officers, along with detectives from West Mercia Police, initially travelled to Kenya in 2013, searching Harris's house and interviewing potential victims. At the same time Harris was arrested and questioned back in the UK.

In July 2013 he was charged under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which is used for prosecuting British nationals committing sexual offences overseas. He was charged with additional offences linked to Gilgil in October 2013.

West Mercia Police’s inquiries also led them to investigate claims of boys being abused at Shebbear College, a private school in Devon, in the 1980s and Mr Harris was subsequently charged with eight offences of indecent assault.

At the beginning of his trial in October 2014, Harris admitted six offences of abusing children at Shebbear College in the late 1980s. He denied the offences he committed in Kenya, resulting in the unprecedented use of technology and co-operation between law enforcement agencies to allow his victims to give their evidence from a temporary court room set up in Kenya.

Officers from West Mercia Police and the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command travelled to Kenya to support the authorities and victims, working closely with the British High Commission in Nairobi and the non-government organisation International Justice Mission (IJM).

Detective Chief Inspector Damian Barratt, senior investigating officer for West Mercia Police said: “Simon Harris is a manipulative predator who travelled to Africa specifically to abuse the most vulnerable of children. I have nothing but praise for their bravery in giving evidence, it took real courage to do so and I hope the outcome of the court case will bring some kind of closure to enable them to move on.”

“We would like to thank the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Court Service and the High Commission for their efforts in making sure we were able to link Birmingham Crown Court and Kenya.

“It’s impossible to state how much work goes into investigations like this, but each and every member of the team has played a crucial role in getting us to where we are today.’

Shawn Kohl, from the International Justice Mission in Kenya, said:

“This case was remarkably difficult to pull off, but the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command, West Mercia and Kenyan CID Police teams performed extraordinarily.

“This case has set a world class model for co-operation between law enforcement and non-governmental organisations to demonstrate that accountability for predators of children will not be stopped by any border or technology.”

On Tuesday 16 December a jury at Birmingham Crown Court found Simon Harris guilty of eight offences relating to sexual assaults of boys in Kenya.

He was also found guilty of four counts of possessing indecent images.

The jury cleared Harris of a number of other charges relating to sexual offences involving children.

He was remanded in custody to be sentenced on 30 January 2015.

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