Graham Ovenden walks free after judged no longer a sexual threat

A celebrated artist who had been convicted of a string of sexual offences against children has defiantly compared himself to Oscar Wilde after he has walked free after a judge concluded he was no longer a threat to youngsters.

Graham Ovenden, 70, whose explicit portraits of young naked girls have hung in galleries across the world, had been found guilty of abusing child models in the 1970s and 1980s, but to the frustration of police officers was only handed a suspended sentence. Through the sentencing judge Graham Cottle told Ovenden he was sure had a sexual interest in children and said that if he committed the offences now he could face up to 14 years in prison on one of the charges alone, the artist was given only a suspended 12-month jail term. Speaking to the Guardian on Monday, before he was sentenced, Ovenden said he was unrepentant and his sales had not suffered: "My reputation is impugned but in the art world fame and infamy are the same thing – look at Oscar Wilde. One of my paintings sold well at auction three weeks ago. It hasn't buggered up my market at all. But I don't wish to go to prison. I'm innocent at every level. "If Christ was to walk this Earth again and utter those quite wonderful words, 'Suffer little children to come unto me', he would probably be arrested as a paedophile and crucified." Privately police, who have investigated Ovenden for years, were furious he did not receive an immediate custodial term. Detective Inspector Paul Maddocks, who led the investigation, thanked Ovenden's victims for coming forward to give "harrowing evidence" at his trial and added: "He has been convicted of the sexual abuse of children, this trial has not been about art." The decision to allow Ovenden his liberty was greeted with dismay by groups who campaign for the victims of sexual abuse. Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused inC hildhood, said: "It's an absolutely outrageous decision. suspended sentence is not appropriate for such serious crimes and it doesn't take into account the suffering inflicted on the victims. "The issue of whether he poses a threat to society should be irrelevant. The judiciary is sending out the message that this crime is not taken seriously." Conservative MP Priti Patel said: "Sex offences, particularly against children, are extremely serious crimes. It is disgraceful that the severity of these offences has not been reflected in the sentence handed out. The victims have been let down and this soft sentence will send the wrong message out." Outside Plymouth crown court after the hearing, Ovenden refused to apologise to his victims and vowed to appeal against his conviction, continuing to insist that his work was about showing children in a "state of grace". Sentencing Ovenden, Judge Graham Cottle told him he cloaked his sexual interest by claiming it was an artistic one. Cottle said a "stream" of young girls had arrived at Ovenden's home, Barley Splatt on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, to be photographed. "The girls had no understanding at that time of the true purpose behind what you were doing, a purpose that was undoubtedly sexual," the judge said. Ovenden was convicted by a jury earlier this year of one indecent assault and six counts of indecency. The judge said one of the indecency offences Ovenden was convicted of – asking a girl to touch him while they were in a bath together – could today be treated as inciting a child to engage in a sexual act, carrying a maximum jail sentence of 14 years. But Cottle said he had to take into account the sentencing regime in place at the time of the offences, between 25 and 40 years ago, before tougher laws to protect children were brought in. He had also considered Ovenden's age, that he had no previous convictions, had endured a "steep fall from grace" – and said he did not consider him a danger to children now. Defending, Christopher Quinlan QC told the court that Ovenden, a former pupil of pop artist Sir Peter Blake, had suffered a blow to his reputation. Some of his works have been removed from the Tate's online collection. We understand that it is not unusual for those who were subject to abuse to come forward later in life. If you or somebody you know were subject to abuse please do not hesitate to contact Charles Derham our specialist child abuse solicitor. We will treat any communications with the strictest of confidence.


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