Sunday, May 5, 2013

How the Press Lied About Graham Ovenden's Conviction

The coverage of Graham Ovenden's trial in the British press was nothing short of disgraceful. During the trial, The Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Independent repeated the same prosecutorial hyperbole and lies, and misreported the same facts in nearly the same order, as if all the articles had been written by a single person.

After Mr. Ovenden’s conviction, the reporting was even worse, raising serious questions of journalistic integrity. None of these papers bothered, or even cared, to report precisely what crimes Mr. Ovenden was convicted of. The Daily Mail informed its readers that:
[Mr. Ovenden's] portraiture formed part of a ruse for abusing girls, making them dress in Victorian clothing before removing it and committing indecent acts. Witnesses described how the artist would take his victims into his studio and make them wear Victorian-style clothing, before it was removed. He would also cover their eyes before abusing them, they told the court.1
The Guardian also led its readers to believe that Mr. Ovenden was convicted of blindfolding and abusing his child models:
Witnesses in the trial described how Ovenden would take the complainants into his studio before removing the Victorian-style clothing. It was alleged that Ovenden covered the girls' eyes with tape and tricked them into taking part in oral abuse.... One complainant told the court: "I would then be made to take my clothes off and put on some kind of gown. I would have my eyes stuck down with black tape. We would have to go through this strange ritual.2
Similarly, The Independent, post-conviction, told how “the court heard [that Mr. Ovenden’s] portraiture formed part of a ruse for abusing girls, making them dress in Victorian clothing before removing it and committing indecent acts.”3

Actually, in the case of The Daily Mail and (South West News Service), one can detect not only negligence in reporting, but also intentional malice.

On April 5th, 2013, three days after the verdict in the case, The Daily Mail published an article that was pure agitation propaganda, doing what The Daily Mail does best and in which it undoubtedly takes pride: using its false affinity with the British working class and lumpenproletariat to foment hatred against the art world “establishment.” In true gutter style, The Daily Mail quoted statements made by prosecutor Ramsay Quaife during the trial and presented them as the charges for which Mr. Ovenden was convicted:
"The defendant would put tape over her eyes," said Mr Quaife. "She could not see anything. The tape was black, stretchy and smelt of glue. Although she could not see, she could hear the defendant and she could remember the sound of his belt buckle. The defendant would tell her she would do a taste test and would get 10p for every taste she got right. He would then push something into her mouth . . . he told her it was his thumb."
In fact, Ovenden was performing a disgusting indecent assault on the girl. Prosecutor Mr Quaife also described how naked girls with taped eyes were moved into different positions and photographed so that their genitals could be seen.4
SWNS, which bills itself as "the UK's largest independent press agency," went even further than The Daily Mail, reporting as fact accusations that were never even made, for example, that Mr. Ovenden “sexually abused young girls as they posed for his paintings” and “made [his models] parade in Victorian nighties before subjecting them to sick assaults” (emphasis added).5

In fact, the abuse premised on Mr. Ovenden dressing his models in Victorian nighties, taping their eyes and putting them to the "taste test" made up precisely those charges for which Mr. Ovenden was acquitted at trial.

Before examining some of the reasons why the jury acquitted Mr. Ovenden of these charges, some facts about this case need to be stated:

  • Mr. Ovenden was not convicted of any crime of child sexual abuse while painting or photographing.
  • Mr. Ovenden was not convicted of sexually abusing anyone who was blindfolded or had tape over her eyes. Although the police were in possession of all of Mr. Ovenden's photographic work from the late 1950s until he photographed his last child model in 1989, they were unable to point to a single image that depicted full frontal nudity of a model with a blindfold or tape over her eyes. That is because such images did not exist.
  • Mr. Ovenden was not convicted for moving his models into different positions and photographing them so that their genitals could be seen.
  • Mr. Ovenden was not convicted of sexually abusing multiple victims.
  • None of Mr. Ovenden's photographs, drawings or paintings depict a crime in progress.
  • None of Mr. Ovenden's published photographs and none of his drawings or paintings were the subject of any accusations against him. 
  • Mr. Ovenden was convicted for three photographs which the jury found "indecent." Two of these photographs were printed by the police from Mr. Ovenden's negatives. Mr. Ovenden himself never printed those images. (The police prints bear water stains from the negatives because Mr. Ovenden never even bothered to clean the short strip they were on after developing.) A third image was printed by Mr. Ovenden, but never exhibited. (The three photographs will be discussed anon.)
  • Out of a total of four former models who testified at the trial, two testified that Mr. Ovenden never sexually abused or touched them in any way. The sexual abuse charges that the police lodged on their behalf were ordered dismissed by the judge during the trial.

The two former models who testified that they were dressed up, had tape put over their eyes and subjected to the alleged “taste test” were JB, now age 38, and LD, now 43. Whilst it is difficult to know the exact reasons why the jury didn’t believe them, a look at the circumstantial evidence at the trial is suggestive.

Ref01 LD
Ref02 JB
LD's story was that on three occasions when she was between the ages of six and eight, Mr. Ovenden subjected her to the “taste test” alone, behind a locked door in Mr. Ovenden's studio. JB testified to the same details, at the same age, but on a single occasion. Their testimony was contradicted by a statement made to the police by Mr. Ovenden's estranged wife that the door to the studio did not have either a lock or a bolt. LD’s testimony was further contradicted by a photograph from the sessions in which she had tape over her eyes, because she is shown not alone, but with a chaperone. (See Ref01, at left.) JB, too, was never photographed alone, but always in the presence of Mr. Ovenden’s daughter, Emily. (See Ref02 at right, which shows JB in a photo session with Mr. Ovenden’s daughter.)

A third problem with the testimony of JB and LD is that they both claimed to have remembered the sound of Mr. Ovenden’s belt. But as Mr. Ovenden indicated to the jury, he has never worn a belt and has always used braces (suspenders). Yet another problem with the “taste test” accusations emerged when the mothers of both these two former models got their "facts" confused when they testified as to what their daughters supposedly told them about these incidents when the daughters were teenagers. Indeed, the stories of JB and LD seemed similar enough that Judge Graham Cottle, no friend of Mr. Ovenden by any means, was compelled to state in his charge to the jury:
Are the complainants independent of each other? Have they come up with similar but false complaints? Have they been affected by someone to make similar but false claims? If you're sure there's no realistic possibility they put their heads together, the evidence of each is capable of supporting the evidence of the other.6
Ref03 LD
Finally, LD could not explain to the jury why, in 1988, at age 18, she visited Mr. Ovenden at Barley Splatt and asked him to take her photograph with her best friend. (The best friend is another former Ovenden model who was photographed more frequently by Mr. Ovenden but never made any accusation against him.) The photographs of LD and her friend show two young women laughing and joyfully posing together in front of Mr. Ovenden’s camera. (See Ref03.)

Although Mr. Quaife claimed that Mr. Ovenden's art was a "ruse" for abusing his models, Mr. Quaife was well aware that the models' eyes were taped or blindfolded for an expressly artistic purpose: the creation of a series of drawings for which Mr. Ovenden was commissioned by the late Harry Lunn, who was a well-known collector of antiquarian photography and a long-time friend of Mr. Ovenden. The color photographs shown here of LD (Ref04), the black-and-white photograph of another model (Ref05) and two drawings (Ref06a and 06b), were not introduced into evidence, but do demonstrate how Mr. Ovenden used photographs as references for his drawings. (They also demonstrate palpable bad faith on the part of Mr. Quaife, who successfully kept the jury from seeing these images.)

The two color images (Ref04) depict LD with white tape (not black and sticky electrical tape) over her eyes. Her facial expressions and the positions of her head in each photograph are rendered accurately, in reverse, in Ovenden's drawing, entitled “Justice pregnant with the spoils of Mammon lead the unseeing innocents to slavery” (Ref06a). The black-and-white image of the blindfolded girl (Ref05) was used as a more general reference for the drawing, entitled "Justice conducts the choir of innocents in their new anthem” (Ref06b). The blindfolded girl in Ref05 who, like the other three former models, testified from behind a screen, denied that Mr. Ovenden ever sexually abused her. The girl accompanying her in that image is the same one who visited Barley Splatt in 1988 and was photographed with LD.

Ref06a Justice pregnant
Ref06b Justice conducts

Although the jury disbelieved the "taste test" inventions of JB and LD and acquitted Mr. Ovenden of those charges, they did convict Mr. Ovenden for two lesser incidents involving JB, neither of which had anything to do with making photography or art. The verdict was not unanimous, but by a vote of 10-2.

JB testified that when she was under six years of age, Mr. Ovenden got into a bath with her and another girl, handed her a washcloth, and asked her to wash his "John Thomas." It was previously reported here that JB testified that she did as she was told, but that is apparently not the case. Rather, she did nothing.7 At trial she simply alleged that many years later she suddenly remembered that his penis was erect at the time. (In other words, the crime was asking.) JB also testified that when she was 10, Mr. Ovenden embraced her from behind while she was fully-clothed, and said “Let me feel your tits.” That is the full extent of her allegations and also a complete account of the only crimes of sexual abuse for which Mr. Ovenden was convicted at trial. (The other charges involve photographs, which will be addressed in another post.)

Within a year of that alleged incident, when she was 11, JB asked Mr. Ovenden to photographer her nude. One of the photographs from that session, published in Mr. Ovenden's photographic monograph, States of Grace, shows JB posing unabashedly naked, hip cocked, arm behind her head. When JB was asked on cross-examination about the session, she dissembled, claiming that she didn't remember being photographed at all. Although she probably didn't see a copy of States of Grace (because few were ever imported into the U.K.), she undoubtedly saw the photograph itself following the session, as Mr. Ovenden made it a practice to print what he felt were the best results of his modeling sessions and show them to his models for their commentary or approval.

Needless to say, Mr. Ovenden vehemently denies that either incident with JB ever occurred.

It is doubtful that either JB or LD actually believed any of their accusations. Commenting on JB and JB's mother, Mr. Ovenden's sister, Elizabeth Spencer, notes:
Having visited Barley Splatt over the course of many years both during and after the period relating to the allegations and having viewed first hand [JB's] and [her mother's] continued visits and relaxed relationship with Graham, it is my opinion that their statements were fabricated in order to discredit him both professionally and personally.
Moreover, there is some evidence that Mr. Ovenden's former models were manipulated and coached by the police and others. Although the press continually reported that the four former models who testified at trial “contacted police long after the abuse is alleged to have taken place, and only when they realised exactly what had happened to them as girls,”8 this is, as will be demonstrated, patently untrue.


1“Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty of indecency against young girls after using nude children in his paintings,” The Daily Mail, April 2, 2013, 15:21 GMT.

2“Artist Graham Ovenden convicted of historic child sex offences,” The Guardian, April 2, 2013, 20:16 BST.

3“Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty on four counts of indecency with a child,” The Independent, April 2, 2013.

4“How the art establishment helped paedophile painter Graham Ovenden get away with it for 20 years,” The Daily Mail, Geoffrey Levy, April 6, 2013, 8:48 GMT (first published on April 5, 22:45 GMT).

According to Wikipedia, the controlling shareholder of the Daily Mail and General Trust plc is Harold Jonathan Esmond Vere Harmsworth, who is 4th Viscount Rothermere, a man with an estimated worth of 1.02 billion pounds sterling – not particularly working class credentials.

5“World-acclaimed artist blindfolded and sexually abused young girls who posed for his paintings,”, April 2, 2013.

6“Artist Graham Ovenden's indecency case jury retires,” BBC News, March 26, 2013, 14:31 GMT

7According to Judge Cottle at sentencing, this "indecency" charge for which Mr. Ovenden was convicted consisted only of "asking a girl to touch him while they were in a bath together." See,Morris, Steven, "Graham Ovenden walks free after judged no longer a sexual threat." The Guardian, 04 June 2013.

8“Artist convicted of sex offences against children,” Telegraph, April 2, 2013.


  1. I've been wondering about the Ovenden case, because I've become quite convinced that the "case" against Jimmy Savile as a 'paedophile' is largely, if not wholly, a media/police construct; and Ovenden seems to have had the misfortune to be tried at a desperate moment in UK social life.

    Looking forward to reading your Posts, having found the blog.

  2. @ The *newspapers* repeated the same prosecutorial hyperbole and lies, and misreported the same facts in nearly the same order, as if all the articles had been written by a single person. @

    During the height of the Savile Allegations most of the newspapers were directly "copying" one another's stories; I think this probably also partly happens because they use third party information sources too, rather than sending their 'own correspondent'.

    What was also apparent was that the various organs of the media were operating in a wholly co-operative way. Whole sections of "voice-over" dialogue and 'interviews' were evidently released to the newspapers by the itv-sponsored 'Exposure' programme. I have compared articles printed in the Daily Mirror on October 1st especially, and they were verbatim to what was spoken in the TV broadcast two days later, on October 3rd.

    It has also become apparent that ACPO were involved with itv prior to the broadcast and the NSPCC had been called in to co-operate too - prior to the broadcast - in other words the entire thing was being quite carefully, and quite deliberately orchestrated at a level outside of the Media itself. Without wanting to become too "conspiracy"-minded, it's worth noting that over 60 journalists have been subjected to dawn raids and arrests in the last couple of years since the Leveson/hacking scandal.

    I am nevertheless shocked by the longevity of this campaign against Mr. Ovenden, which you indicate has been a decade and more in the making. You mentioned the now-retired officer who seemed very determined to make the case against Mr. Ovenden. In the Savile affair there was another officer who you will recall from the news, who acted in a similarly torch-bearing manner.

    The credulity innate in the minds of the police might be illustrated by the fact that the same officer took a number of Met Officers on a 'Satanic Abuse' seminar as recently as 2004. You would have thought that after the 'Satanic Abuse' scandals of the 1990's in Orkney such ideas were long gone, but apparently not.

  3. I've just attempted to add this passage from your blog to the Daily Mail online sentencing reports, in the comments section:

    Out of a total of four former models who testified at the trial, two testified that Mr. Ovenden never sexually abused or touched them in any way. The sexual abuse charges that the police lodged on their behalf were ordered dismissed by the judge during the trial.

    Be interesting to see if the Mail allows the comment; they are *checking* all comments prior to them being 'published'.