Friday, May 24, 2013

On Becoming an Offence to Public Morals

Graham Ovenden A Little Sea MaidIn the wake of Graham Ovenden's conviction on two false charges related to one former "model" -- a woman who is both registrar and administrative/ technical contact for the website of Mr. Ovenden's estranged wife -- and five charges related to three "indecent" photographs depicting only nudity, Mr. Ovenden and his art have been heaped with scorn in the press and the blogosphere. Commentaries have ranged from crass derision and sneering (e.g., The Daily Mail and Jonathan Jones in The Guardian) to an almost neo-Nazi-like zeal and fervid hatred (e.g., Chris Spivey, Dave Knight and others of the ilk of Icke). (For those who don't know, David Icke is a conspiracy theorist who believes that Britain, and possibly the entire world, is ruled by reptilian paedophile satanists.) Naturally none of the writers or bloggers have any of their facts straight about Mr. Ovenden's case and know next to nothing about his art -- or much about any art, for that matter. That also goes for Mr. Jones, whose article about Mr. Ovenden's work and "1970s self-conscious decadence" revealed a breathtaking dearth of knowledge about both art and art history.1

In response to Graham Ovenden's conviction, the Tate Gallery removed 34 of his (mostly early) works from public view, because the convictions, the Tate said, "shone a new light" on his art.2 Perhaps they will be restored once the Tate realises that the work shown did not depict any of the witnesses at trial (including the ones who recanted the sex charges that the police prepared for them) and was not made while Mr. Ovenden was molesting anyone. On the other hand, the Tate may decide, as Jonathan Jones believes, that the work is no longer art (or that it never was).

Rachel Cooke had a good point when she wrote in the The Guardian on Sunday,' 7 April, 2013, that "[w]hat was art in March must surely be art in April."3 Never mind that she was misinformed about how Mr. Ovenden's trial actually turned out. "You can't un-art art," she wrote, "though Hitler had a go, when he decided that what was modern was also degenerate and set about destroying it and, far worse, those who made it."4

Of course, when it comes to photographic work, you can "un-art art." According to the courts, the 1978 Protection of Children Act was intended to follow the dictates of public opinion and requires that, in any prosecution under the Act, the artist's intent, the context within which the images were created, and what the subjects of the images said about those images as young adults (and close in time to the images' creation) must not be considered. Thus it is hardly a surprise that, in 2013, images which the Crown Prosecution Service declined to prosecute during the 1990s should become the cause of a criminal conviction. That wasn't the only injustice: the application of "specimen" counts made it possible for the jury also to convict Graham Ovenden for photographs (depicting only nudity) that they never saw.

Critics like Jones and other moralists who are smug about their "un-arting" of Mr. Ovenden's work and advocate, expressly or impliedly, its destruction, will surely miss the irony that their politically correct ideas land them at the same point as some of the worst ideologues and ideologies in history (and not just national socialism). To put an even finer point on it, one may cite the words of Thomas Mann in Mario and the Magician, a novella written in 1929 about the rise of fascism in Italy:
In a word, we became an offence to the public morals. Our small daughter -- eight years old, but in physical development a good year younger and thin as a chicken -- had had a good long bathe and gone playing in the warm sun in her wet costume. We told her that she might take off her bathing-suit, which was stiff with sand, rinse it in the sea, and put it on again, after which she must take care to keep it cleaner. Off goes the costume and she runs down naked to the sea, rinses her little jersey, and comes back. Ought we to have foreseen the outburst of anger and resentment which her conduct, and thus our conduct, called forth? Without delivering a homily on the subject, I may say that in the last decade our attitude towards the nude body and our feelings regarding it have undergone, all over the world, a fundamental change.
                                                               - Thomas Mann, Mario & the Magician
The reader should not think that anyone is being accused of fascism here. Rather, the lesson lies in the fact that what Stephen Pinker refers to as the "Rights Revolution," a positive historical development that includes "a century long movement to prevent the abuse and neglect of children," has left, as an utterly unnecessary legacy, a code of etiquette with its own "puzzling customs, peccadilloes and taboos."5 That this code includes a dangerous streak aimed at dictating what people may represent and view in art is not in doubt.


1Jones, Jonathan, "Graham Ovenden: artist thrived among 1970s self-conscious decadence." The Guardian, 2 April 2013;

2Bowie-Sell, Daisy, "Graham Ovenden prints removed from Tate." The Telegraph, 04 April 2013.

Most of the works that are now hidden away at the Tate, including the Aspects of Lolita series of aquatints from 1975, can be seen online, most notably at the website for the Art Museum at the State University of New York at Albany and the website called Not the Tate, which was created the last time that the Gallery removed Graham Ovenden's work from public view.

3Cooke, Rachel, "The idea of 'ethical art' is nonsense. We have to separate art from life.' The Guardian, Sunday, 07 April 2013;


5Pinker, Stephen. The Better Angels of Our Nature. Viking, 2011. (Kindle Edition, Location 8450-51.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Graham Ovenden's Photographs vs. The Vile Mindset

go1"For the Sake of the Children" was a documentary film that aired on British Television Channel Four on August 28, 1997. Written and presented by Nicky Akehurst, it covered a series of persecutions and prosecutions of various personages and photographers by the Metropolitan Police and New Scotland Yard squad during the mid-1990s, and raised the question of exactly whom the authorities were trying to protect when they seized photographs and books depicting nude minors.

In the 2010's, it is almost difficult to imagine any mainstream media defending such images, at least without fretting over whether the images might perhaps emanate from or provoke an erotic thought. As sociologist Dr. Tiffany Jenkins stated in an article on, entitled "Vile mindset pollutes depictions of innocence," in which she criticises the Tate Gallery's decision to remove Mr. Ovenden's artworks from its website and from public access, people now perceive all images of nude minors "through abuser-tinted glasses.... No picture of a young child is untainted by this mindset."1

As it happens, and we will return to this theme is future posts, Graham Ovenden's art is not some kind of celebration of erotic attraction to young girls. Nor is it, as prosecutor Ramsay Quaife maintained, "a ruse" for abusing girls.2 (This particular libel was disproved by the dismissals and acquittals on all the manufactured charges that Mr. Ovenden blindfolded and dressed up his models in order to molest and photograph them.) Mr. Ovenden's art depicting young girls is multifaceted. The paintings, drawings and graphic works of fictional subjects may engage the viewer on the themes of innocence and purity, sentimentality, corruption, defilement and danger, may play on archetypes like the angel-demon or the "seductress," or may represent the subjects as phenomena of other realms, supernatural or supra-natural phenomena existing outside of mere human corporeal existence. With respect to his photographs of young girls, however, the elements of danger and defilement are completely absent. This is because, first and foremost, Mr. Ovenden's photographs are a faithful dialogue with his subjects. For evidence of that fact, one should look no further than the clear-eyed statements made by Mr. Ovenden's subjects when they were young adults, not terribly far removed from their experiences of being photographed.

Previous posts have contained some of those statements, but nothing so public as the interview of Emily Ovenden and Maud Hewes from the documentary, "For the Sake of the Children." The interview is extraordinary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Ms. Hewes, age 23 at the time of the interview, no longer views the photographs as an expression of self and a source of pride. (The film also displayed numerous photographs by Mr. Ovenden depicting nude children, including those of his daughter and Ms. Hewes.) Going by her trial testimony, it is difficult to know precisely how Ms. Hewes now views the photographs. However, it is apparent that she wishes they never happened. This emotional revisionism could stem from any number of causes, but one may speculate that it was largely made possible by the "vile mindset."

go4 from For the Sake of the Children.
Produced by Annie Dodds.
Directed by Bob Bentley.
Written and presented by Nicky Akehurst.
UK: October Films and Channel Four, 1997.
(Asterisks represent material intercut during the interview.)

Emily Ovenden: We've known each other since the beginning; we had a brilliant time!
Maud Hewes: Yeah! Me too.
Emily: It's like the Garden of Eden down there [at Barley Splatt]. It's beautiful!
Maud: Yeah, there's everything -- it's freedom -- there's woods and rivers…
go6Emily: We were swimming in the river all the time, we were camping, we made camps and rope things…
Maud: …And quite often we would ask...
Emily: …we WANTED to be photographed.
Maud: …to be photographed.
Emily: It would be like, Dad! Dad! Look at the outfits we've got…
Maud: …Look what we've done!
Emily: …Will you take pictures of us?
Maud: …We can do this story for you!
Emily: And really, it wasn't so much prompted from him, but rather from us.

go7Emily: I think the photographs Dad has taken are so far from pornography, they're just so far from it, that it never would have crossed our minds that that would have been taken like that, you know?
Maud: I'm not saying we ran about naked all the time or anything, but we weren't ashamed, we weren't taught to be ashamed about [it]…
Emily: No.

Emily: I think it's very dangerous for people to ignore the fact that young girls do have a sexuality. I think it's a very important part of growing up and being a woman. And to hide your body when you're a child, and to make it out that it's something dirty is, I think, very dangerous.
Maud: And wrong.
Emily: Yeah!
Maud: I'm not ashamed of any of my photographs: I'm proud. Many of my photographs are published -- they hang in collections -- they're nothing to be ashamed of at all.

go8Maud: When [the police] interviewed me and they looked at my photographs and they were sort of pointing at them and they were condemning -- they were "condemned," they were, like, "pornographic," and "Didn't I realise that these people had used me," and "I was just a child," and "I didn't know," and "how could I possibly know that's how it happened?" Basically [they said] I had been brainwashed, you know? But he was actually looking at images of myself when he was saying that: "Do you not think this is pornography? Look at this and this and this: is it not pornography?" And it's a picture of ME!

go5Maud: The other thing that they did was they took the photographs and they chopped them up -- they highlighted bits of them, or they showed a little bit of the photograph. It was completely out of context. And they'd be sort of going, "Oh… yeah…" And it WAS pornographic like that, in a sense.


1Jenkins, Tiffany, "Vile mindset pollutes depictions of innocence.", 09 April 2013;

2"Artist Graham Ovenden's indecency case jury retires," BBC News, 26 March 2013;


Graham Ovenden will be sentenced on 04 June 2013.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Fabrication of Charges Against Graham Ovenden

Graham Ovenden was acquitted by the jury of blindfolding his models and subjecting them to a “taste test” during which he was alleged to have indecently assaulted them. These accusations were laid on behalf of all four witnesses, but only two, JB and LD, chose to repeat the lie at trial. Their stories were disbelieved by the jury, most likely because they were contradicted by circumstantial evidence and mirrored each other so closely, that they smacked of collusion. One of these witnesses, JB, also accused Mr. Ovenden of two other isolated acts, for which the jury convicted Mr. Ovenden by a vote of 10-2. These “assaults” were completely unconnected with modelling, photo sessions or blindfolding and nowhere near the gravity of what one imagines when one hears the term “indecent assault.” These single incidents are worth repeating, even though they were also lies: First, that Mr. Ovenden allegedly got into a bathtub with her (when she was under the age of 6) and another girl, and asked her to wash his “John Thomas” with a washcloth. (The crime was in the asking; whether she actually did was not established.) Second, that Mr. Ovenden came up behind her (age 10) while she was clothed, reached around her and put his hands on her chest, saying “let me feel your tits.”

As to the two witnesses who refused to tell the “taste test” story and firmly stated, even under withering questioning by prosecutor Quaife, that they were never assaulted or abused by Mr. Ovenden in any way. Mr. Ovenden was also convicted of taking “indecent” photographs. The jury found 3 photographs to be indecent and convicted Mr. Ovenden on two “specimen” counts, each related to the act of taking the 3 photographs, as well as other photographs that the jury never saw. That these acts of photography were not “assaults” in any honest sense of the word can be readily understood from the fact that both of these witnesses, now age 50 and 39, respectively, supported Mr. Ovenden’s photographs of them when they were still in their 20s. This alone would seem newsworthy, but it was not reported anywhere in the British media.

Instead, when reporting Mr. Ovenden’s conviction on April 2, 2013, major newspapers (with the sole exception of The Telegraph), described as the counts of conviction precisely those charges of which Mr. Ovenden was acquitted:
The Times: “[Mr. Ovenden] abused children while they modeled for him.”1
The Daily Mail: “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.”2
The Guardian: “They told how he would blindfold them and force them to take part in a "tasting game" that ended up in tricking them into taking part in oral abuse. ... [T]he jury clearly believed the testimony of some of the women who described abuse at Barley Splatt.”3
The Independent: “Witnesses described how Ovenden 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.”4
Although The Telegraph did not report these particular lies about Mr. Ovenden’s conviction, it did repeat another lie that had been perpetrated by the prosecution and reported almost universally in the press: “The charges relate to four claimants, who 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, the court heard.”5 (This exact statement was also reported in The Times (the same article cited above), The Mirror6, The Guardian7, Western Morning News8 and BBC News9, among other places.

In fact, none of the witnesses at Graham Ovenden’s trial contacted the police “when they realised exactly what had happened to them as girls.”

The two witnesses whose photographs were ruled as “indecent” didn’t suddenly wake up one day to realise that Mr. Ovenden had taken “indecent” photographs of them. As already stated in greater detail in the previous post, one of them, in 1990 when she was 27, wrote in a statement for the introduction of Mr. Ovenden’s monograph, States of Grace, that “I never felt that [Graham] took away ‘me’ as a person… One of the things that’s very important, I feel, is that the work is very honest…” Yet, at trial, she testified that the single photograph of her introduced into evidence was “not me,” which is to say that she changed her mind, at least about that particular image. The other witness, Maud Hewes, did a near about-face to the statements she made in the 1990s, declaring that young girls should not be photographed as she once was by Mr. Ovenden. Obviously, when these former models, as younger adults, were supporting Mr. Ovenden’s photographs of them, they were well aware that they had been photographed, what those photographs depicted and what their experiences were.

01 Inscription by Maud Hewes
Maud Hewes' 1993 Inscription to Graham Ovenden in his copy of States of Grace
So how did they end up as witnesses in the case?

The woman who wrote a statement for the introduction to States of Grace was contacted by the police, not vice versa, after Mr. Ovenden naively handed them a list of names and addresses of about twenty of his former models whose whereabouts he still knew. There was a discussion at the trial, out of hearing of the jury, of this witness suffering from some form of clinical depression (not related to being photographed). One can well imagine how vulnerable this woman must have been to repeated visits and contact by the police, pressuring her to accuse Mr. Ovenden of abusing her and to denounce the images he had taken of her. That she was able to stand up to the pressure and testify that she had never been abused is remarkable enough. But the pressure on her to identify her image – so that Mr. Ovenden could be convicted for “assaulting” her by clicking the camera shutter – was enormous and should not be underestimated. In January 1996, Mr. Ovenden’s daughter, Emily, told The Guardian what Mr. Ovenden’s former models faced:
Emily refuses to be interviewed by the police. They have asked her on several occasions. But she doesn't see the point and, adult now, is in the position to refuse. She has heard what it would be like from her father's other models. She knows how her friend Maud was reduced to tears, not by the recall of actual events but by the questioning about sexual acts that never took place. She knows how Maud's father felt threatened and bullied. She knows how traumatised they all were by their contact with the police – so traumatised that she's certain none of them want to talk about it.10
Ms. Ovenden also told The Guardian that
All of her friends kept copies of the work that featured them. She never felt self-conscious and none of the girls ever felt shamed by their nudity. … Emily laughs about the police displaying a print of her friend, "masked to highlight the offensive areas," and asking if she was ashamed. The girl pointed out that the original hung above her bed.11
Maud Hewes, more than a decade after she defended Mr. Ovenden’s work in the 1996 Channel 4 documentary, “For the Sake of the Children,” probably decided to be a witness in the case for a number of reasons, including the poisonous atmosphere surrounding photographs of nude children that now pervades Britain. But whatever her personal reasons, the catalyst for her testimony was Mr. Ovenden’s son, Edmund Dante (“Ned”) Ovenden. Ned Ovenden was in contact with Hewes, JB and LD, as well as JB’s mother, well before any charges were laid – indeed, before any of those witnesses had any charges to lay.

Taking Sides

02 Barley SplattIn 2000, Graham Ovenden and his wife, Annie, granted Ned a one-third interest in their land and house at Barley Splatt. The building is a unique and important piece of architecture, a large portion of which was physically built by Mr. Ovenden over a period of thirty years. In return for his share, Ned was to complete the building to Mr. Ovenden’s specification. At the time, the indebtedness on the property was £45,000. As Mr. Ovenden would eventually discover, the grant to Ned had been a mistake. Unbeknownst to Mr. Ovenden, Ned began taking loans against the estate in order to finance a lifestyle to which he believed he was entitled, and his purchases included numerous high value cars, a half-share in a Cessna aircraft and full ownership of another. In addition, in the mid-2000s, the Ovenden family was splitting apart, undoubtedly precipitated to some degree by the 2006 police raid on Barley Splatt and a new round of police persecution. Shortly after the 2006 raid, with tensions running high between Mr. Ovenden, on the one hand, and his wife and Ned Ovenden, on the other, Mr. Ovenden moved himself and his studio first, to an out-building on Barley Splatt, called “The Studio,” and later, when Barley Splatt was sold, to another out-building called “the Garage.” About the same time, Ned and Annie secretly obtained over £500,000 in cash from a joint mortgage against Barley Splatt and used it to purchase property in Bodmin and Lostwhithiel in their own names.

By 2008 the mortgage on Barley Splatt was a staggering £840,000. Although Ned did some work on the property, the building itself was substantially the same as it had been prior to his one-third grant. When The Telegraph reported on December 24, 2008, that Barley Splatt was on offer for £925,000, Ned stated, “If someone had £100,000 to spend on it, they could make it into a fabulous house.”12

In June of 2008, Mr. Ovenden fell seriously ill. He was lucky in a way: a friend and student discovered him in a disoriented and fragile state and immediately called for assistance. While the friend was helping Graham into the ambulance, Ned Ovenden stood by, completely uninterested in accompanying his father. Mr. Ovenden lay in hospital for five weeks, at least part of the time in a coma.

Shortly after Mr. Ovenden was taken into hospital, Mr. Ovenden’s sister, Elizabeth, came to Barley Splatt to stay with Annie while she visited her brother. Elizabeth was on good terms with Annie, having not yet learned of the financial dealings that had occurred. After visiting Mr. Ovenden and reporting to Annie and Ned that there was a possibility that Mr. Ovenden might not recover, Annie and Ned discussed their plans to dispose of large parts of Mr. Ovenden’s rare photographic and ephemera collections, including taking the material to New York, where Ned believed he could sell it without its original ownership being obvious. Annie and Ned had a similar conversation with a friend of Mr. Ovenden and they subsequently sent some of the purloined photographs to one of Mr. Ovenden’s acquaintances in the photographic world for an assessment of their value and sale. (That acquaintance scanned or photocopied all the images and, because Ned represented that he was acting on the authority of Mr. Ovenden, sold photographs worth approximately £4,500. He subsequently furnished Mr. Ovenden with a record of which images were brought to him by Ned and invoices of what had been sold, but by that time Ned had already taken back the unsold photographs.)

Annie and Ned did, in fact, briefly visit Mr. Ovenden in the hospital, but not to wish him well. Upon their return, they announced to a friend of Mr. Ovenden that Mr. Ovenden “should be dead.” A few days later, they left for France on vacation, hoping that upon their return Mr. Ovenden would have met his demise. Friends of Mr. Ovenden have noted that there were already intimations that steps were being taken to bring Mr. Ovenden down. At an art exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery the previous April, JB’s mother told a friend of Mr. Ovenden that “we’re going to get him.” Also around this time, Annie Ovenden told the same friend that she was going to “put [Mr. Ovenden] in the gutter.”

Mr. Ovenden returned home from hospital in fragile health and no longer on speaking terms with Annie or Ned. When Ned submitted papers to Mr. Ovenden to authorize the sale of Barley Splatt – Mr. Ovenden was not yet aware of the full extent of the indebtedness – he refused to sign them. When Mr. Ovenden responded angrily, Ned reacted violently, throwing an encaustic tile through the reinforced double-glass panel of Mr. Ovenden’s front door. (A few months later, Mr. Ovenden discovered that Barley Splatt had been put up for sale after he read about it in The Telegraph. By then, Mr. Ovenden realised that he could do nothing to save it. The debt simply could not be serviced on the modest income Mr. Ovenden earned from his art.) During this period Ned also began telling Mr. Ovenden’s friends who would come to visit that they should stay away from Mr. Ovenden lest their careers and reputations be ruined by their association with Mr. Ovenden, advice that they took as not-so-veiled threats of defamation. In the case of at least one friend, the threat was direct. But that’s not even the half of what Ned did. In 2009, Ned went to Aberdeen to visit the homes of both JB, whose husband is a lifelong friend of Ned, and Maud Hewes, whom Ned had long known, as she was a frequent visitor to Barley Splatt throughout the 1980s. It was only after Ned’s visit to Aberdeen that Ms. Hewes and JB made any statements to the police, who came to visit them at Ned’s behest. (One of the investigating officers in the case, Maddox, is a friend of Ned.) Exactly what Ned told these former models is unknown, but the connections between Hewes, JB, JB’s mother, Ned and Annie Ovenden are undeniable, as suggested by circumstantial evidence.

Although both JB and Ms. Hewes had been living in Aberdeen for over a decade, they had little or no contact with each other. JB joined Facebook sometime during 2007 and Ms. Hewes joined Facebook on December 24, 2007, yet they didn’t “friend” each other until after Ned put them together in 2009. Also after Ned’s visit, in August 2009, JB “friended” Annie Ovenden. (By contrast, JB “friended” Emily Ovenden in 2007.) Was there a bit of a quid pro quo for JB’s delivery of testimony against Mr. Ovenden? Perhaps. On September 30, 2010, JB registered the domain name for Annie Ovenden’s website and became the site’s administrative and technical contact. (She did the same for her mother’s website.)

Through another friend who happens to be married to yet another former Ovenden model (one not involved in any accusation), Ned also contacted LD who, in turn, as with JB and Ms. Hewes, was visited by the police. As mentioned above, Ms. Hewes allowed the police to lodge sexual abuse charges on her behalf but evidently thought better of perjuring herself once she got in the witness box.13 JB and LD, however, followed their scripts. After all, each of the four witnesses stood to earn as much as £40,000 in victim compensation if the jury bought their stories.

Between 1964 and 1989, Graham Ovenden photographed approximately 70 young girls, some of them on multiple occasions. Yet, in the twenty years that Mr. Ovenden has been publicly “under suspicion” by the police, with his cases being discussed in nearly every British newspaper and media outlet between 1993 and 1997 and again in 2009 and 2010, not a single former model came forward of her own accord to accuse Mr. Ovenden of sexually abusing her. While researching for this article, however, this writer came across another statement in Mr. Ovenden’s support, one more typical of his former models who spoke in his defense during the 1990s. As she used her real name, Mr. Ovenden was able to recall photographing her in 1973, not long after moving to Barley Splatt, when she was ten years of age:
I was one of Graham Ovendens’ ‘models’. This beautiful man, was a perfect photographer. He was kind and patient, while I sat wearing clothes that I chose. At no time did he touch me in any way. This man is a wonderful artist and human being…. I was never asked to take my clothes off, I was able to wear what I wanted and how I wanted to wear it. If I was ever naked and a photograph was taken, I knew what was happening and was free; not sexuallised in any way. I wish Graham a happy, healthy, carefree life.14
Over the years, British police had accused Mr. Ovenden of a variety of trumped up crimes, arresting him on such transparently thin charges as “suspicion of conspiracy to indecently assault children”15 or the creation of “pseudo-photographs,” but they could never find anyone to make an actual allegation of sexual abuse. By April 2010, just as the third case against Mr. Ovenden and his images was being dismissed for police abuse, the Child Investigation Team of the Metropolitan Police announced that it was “investigating” allegations of child sexual abuse and that the Crown Prosecution Service would soon decide if charges were to be laid.16 Although the police must have spent a lot of money, it didn’t bear much fruit. Ned Ovenden and the police visited other former Ovenden models, but could not prevail upon them to make an accusation. However, thanks to Mr. Ovenden’s na├»ve trust that the truth would prevail when he handed over a list of names and addresses of former models, and especially thanks to machinations of Ned Ovenden, Annie Ovenden and her best friend, JB’s mother, the British police finally got what they wanted.

Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, recently wrote about the behavior of the Metropolitan Police in their investigations of Jimmy Savile. Although Mr. Ovenden’s case is hardly comparable and involved Mr. Ovenden’s son as agent provocateur, the so-called “investigative” methods of the police were the same. Instead of “solving reported crimes” they were “searching for crimes that have not been reported.”17 The danger, Mr. Furedi explained, is that
[t]his trawling for victims and search for retrospective allegations could have a disturbing impact on the way the criminal justice system works. Instead of solving crimes, the police attempt to uncover them, in order to reinforce and strengthen evidence against the targets of their investigation. A trawling operation is not a response to an allegation of abuse voluntarily made by an individual; it is an invitation to people to reinterpret their past experiences in terms of victimisation and abuse.18
What Mr. Furedi didn’t say, but will be said here, is that such overzealous behavior on the part of the police is also an invitation to people to lay false charges for any variety of motivations, including interfamily squabbles, personal animosities and jealousies, and the prospect of victim compensation.


1Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty on sex charges, The Times, April 2 2013;

2Cooper, Rob, Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty of indecency against young girls after usingnude children in his paintings, The Daily Mail, April 2, 2013;

3Morris, Steven, Graham Ovenden lived in rambling rural idyll with a dark side, The Guardian, April 2, 2013;

4Minchin, Rod, Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty on four counts of indecency with a child, The Independent, 02 April 2013;

5Artist convicted of sex offences against children, The Telegraph, 02 April 2013;

6Artist Graham Ovenden convicted ofsex offences against kids, The Mirror, 02 April 2013;

7Graham Ovenden convicted of child sex offences, The Guardian, 02 April 2013;

8Jury still out in West artist's indecency trial, Western Morning News (This is Cornwall), Thursday, March 28, 2013;

9Artist Graham Ovenden's indecency case jury retires, BBC News, March 29, 2013;

10"Pictures of Innocence," David Newnham & Chris Townsend, The Guardian Weekend, January 13, 1996, pp. 12-15.


12Wilson, Mary. "Property in Cornwall: Drawn to an artists' work in progress," The Telegraph, 24 December 2008. . The final sale price for Barley Splatt was £600,000, far below market value.

13It probably would have been easier for her to tell the tale of woe that had been prepared for her. She was the final witness, testified behind a screen (i.e., out of view of Mr. Ovenden) and helped along, as were the other witnesses, by a bevy of policewomen and victim advocates. When she refused to follow the script, however, prosecutor Quaife turned on her.

14Statement of GH, dated of 31 October 2009, posted at at "Graham Ovenden On Trial," the Baby Art blog of Trevor Brown, The page also features a comment from someone posting as "got away" who complains she was abused at age 4. Investigation has revealed that "got away" is none other than "Donna El Berry" a/k/a Minty Challis, who faked the a similar post in April 2013, when The Guardian ran its poll, "Should the Tate have removed Graham Ovenden's prints?" Her comment was removed by The Guardian after the fraud was exposed. For information on Minty Challis, see; and

15Sex case artist to face new inquiry, Western Morning News (This is Cornwall), 19 April 2010;


17Furedi, Frank, After Savile: policing as entertainment, Spiked, 29 April 2013,


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Trial Fails to Rewrite History of Graham Ovenden's Art

[Readers who haven't read the previous posts should do so before reading this lengthy one.]

Although prosecutor Ramsay Quaife attempted to connect Graham Ovenden’s art with sexual abuse charges, he was unable to do so at trial. The “taste test,” where Mr. Ovenden was said to have blindfolded two of his models in order trick them into performing fellatio, was disbelieved by the jury for good reason: the stories were directly contradicted by circumstantial evidence and lacked the ring of truth. Mr. Quaife’s other claim – that Mr. Ovenden blindfolded his models in order to get them to pose with their legs open – was never proven because there were never any photographs to support it.

The two prosecution witnesses whose photographs by Mr. Ovenden were charged as “indecent” must have been under considerable pressure to make accusations against Mr. Ovenden. The police concocted negative statements, but when called to testify, they failed to follow the scripts that the police and prosecution had prepared for them.

One of the witnesses, the subject of a single photograph alleged to be indecent, unequivocally stated behind the witness screen that Mr. Ovenden never abused her and gave mixed reviews to her photographs. One image shown to her on cross-examination she found beautiful. As to the allegedly indecent photograph presented by the prosecution, she simply stated that it was “not me.” Presumably she meant that she didn’t feel it was a proper portrayal. That photograph, which had never been published or exhibited, was part of a group of images taken from a bound album that was seized from Mr. Ovenden’s studio and torn apart by the police in preparation for trial. Mr. Ovenden later testified in his defence that taken together with the other images, the allegedly “indecent” one would not be viewed as indecent at all. At that point, Judge Graham Cottle inquired of the prosecution whether the police were in possession of the other photographs. They said they were not, despite the fact that they had shown them to Mr. Ovenden’s counsel legal team, comprised of QC (Queen’s Counsel) Christopher Quinlan, barrister Robert Linford and solicitor Tess O’Callahan, just prior to Mr. Ovenden stepping into the witness box. Ultimately, the other images may not have been admissible for the jury to consider, as under British law, jurors are instructed to consider images in isolation from the context in which they were created.

That peculiar phrasing of the witness, that the photograph was “not me,” was probably a contrivance of the prosecution to ensure that she didn’t give an opinion as to the ultimate question – i.e., whether the image was “indecent.” The latter is strictly for the jury to decide. If she had stated that she believed the photograph was “indecent,” a mistrial might have been declared.

There was more than mere contrivance in the signed statement prepared for this witness by the police. Although the prosecution represented that it accurately summarized her extensive pre-trial interview, Mr. Ovenden’s QC compared the two and discovered that the statement mischaracterized what she had said and omitted crucial testimony which tended in Mr. Ovenden’s favour. Furthermore, she was not a witness who, as the prosecution claimed, “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.”1 Not long before his arrest in 2006, Mr. Ovenden received a visit from the witness’s mother, who asked Mr. Ovenden for copies of photographs that he had taken of her two daughters and told Mr. Ovenden that her daughter (the witness in question) sent him her fondest wishes. What happened to this former model was not some realisation, but a visit from the police, who contacted her after Mr. Ovenden naively gave them a list of his former models in 2008.

It should not be surprising that in her interview with the police she had positive things to say about her experience of being photographed by Mr. Ovenden. In 1990, when she was 27, she made a statement about that experience and it was published as part of the introduction to Mr. Ovenden’s monograph, States of Grace. Here is what she said:
There was a freedom about it -- not just being myself, but it showed other possibilities, different from everyday situations. It was nice to be accepted on the level that I was myself and he didn't used to say “this is so-and-so and she is 10 years old.”  In this sense, it was very adult....

Graham didn't pose me that much. He used to just let me do things and he used to say “that's OK.” It was quite spontaneous. Sometimes he might have said “pick up your chin” or he might have said something emotive, like “look far away” or things like that. I never felt that he took away “me” as a person.

One of the things that's very important, I feel, is that the work is very honest. However, erotic the pictures are, however they are provocative, they are honest pictures. We were there. We did those things. It's not like someone's faked it. I know that Graham's an artist, and not to take anything away from him, of course, but the thing is, the people are there. So, it exists and you can't pretend it doesn't exist and that sexuality doesn't exist. So the honesty, I think, is really important and I think people are just stuffy and have a lot of fears about what's okay and get confused about what's okay.... It was a very safe environment.2
With the second prosecution witness and her allegedly “indecent” photographs, things get, as Alice once said, curiouser and curiouser.  The police laid three charges of sexual abuse against Mr. Ovenden on her behalf, but when she got to the witness box, behind a screen and out of view of Mr. Ovenden and any spectators, she steadfastly maintained that Mr. Ovenden had never abused her. Prosecutor Quaife, who must have felt betrayed, turned nasty in his questioning of her. He made her cry, but couldn’t shake her resolve. On the following Monday, when the trial was reconvened, the prosecution made an application to the court to dismiss the three unproven counts.

Judge Cottle was extremely unhappy with that decision. Although he ordered the three charges dismissed,3 as he was required to, he invited the prosecution to bring new charges in their place. Subsequently, Mr. Ovenden was separately charged with making two indecent photographs of the witness in question. These were laid in addition to two “specimen” charges that related, in part, to the same photographs. While bringing new charges in mid-trial seems unfair in terms of compromising a defendant’s ability to prepare a defence, specimen charges are manifestly unjust where, as here, the line between legality and criminality can only be drawn by looking at the images.

The two photographs in question, taken on the same day and appearing on the same strip of negatives, were not printed by Graham Ovenden. They were printed by the police, who manipulated them in such a way so as to accentuate the genitalia. Interestingly, these photographs had already been in the possession of the police once, in 1993, when Mr. Ovenden was raided by Sergeant Michael Platt of the Metropolitan Police, Obscene Publications Squad. Mr. Platt, now retired, appeared at Mr. Ovenden’s 2013 trial. Outside the courtroom, he represented to QC Quinlan, who was standing with the rest of Mr. Ovenden’s legal team, that the two images in question were familiar to him and confirmed that they had been returned to Mr. Ovenden. Immediately thereafter, however, Mr. Platt was led away by the prosecution, only to return and say that he had been mistaken.

These two photographs, in addition to being the basis of two charges in their own right, were the basis for the specimen counts, which were grouped into different years. (If the reader finds it strange that two photographs taken on the same day could represent groupings of photographs spanning different years, so does this writer.) Where a specimen, as in Mr. Ovenden’s case, is a separately identifiable offence, the jury is instructed as follows:
Count [X] is a specimen Count. The prosecution allege that D[efendant] also committed numerous other offences of the same kind. Instead of loading up the Indictment with Counts charging many offences, they have selected one as an example, as they are entitled to do. However, you may convict D[efendant] only if you are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he committed the particular offence charged in the Count [X], whether or not you are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he also committed other such offences.
Crown Court Bench Book and Specimen Directions, Third Ed., 2010 (emphasis added).

In other words, even if the jury is uncertain about the photographs they haven’t been shown, if they find the examples (i.e., the two photographs) “indecent,” then they must convict on the specimen charge. The Bench Book gives as an example of a specimen charge “a Count of indecent assault on a child who claims to have been abused in the same way on many occasions, but cannot say precisely when or how often.” This isn’t even remotely analogous to the situation here. Photographs are physical artifacts. What someone might remember about a photograph is proven or disproven by the thing itself. These counts essentially tell the jury that if it finds one image “indecent,” then it should imagine that others are also “indecent,” regardless of what the photographs actually show. Compounding the disparity is the fact that although the witness was photographed by Mr. Ovenden on many occasions, she did not testify that she was photographed in the same pose on numerous occasions.

The witness was not called back for additional testimony regarding the new charges, but she had already expressed her opinion. As to the two photographs printed by the police, she stated, like the first witness, that they were “not me.” She also said that, at 39 years of age, looking at her photographs, she was of the opinion that no young girl should ever be photographed in such a way and that she would do anything she could do to make sure that it didn’t happen to anyone else.

This was a strong condemnation given that she did not testify to having suffered any particular damage or consequence as a result of her experiences. It is also a strange statement – a complete revision of the eloquent declarations she made during the 1990s in defence of Mr. Ovenden’s photographs of her.

Maud Hewes was photographed by Graham Ovenden twenty to twenty-five times from the time she was six until she was about fifteen. (He also once photographed her nude as an adult.) Seven of her images from 1984 through 1988, when she was between the ages of nine and fourteen, appear in Mr. Ovenden’s monograph, States of Grace. In five of them she poses by herself; in two, she is posing with another model. Ms. Hewes’ name, unlike those of the other witnesses against Mr. Ovenden, is mentioned here because she spoke publicly about Mr. Ovenden’s photographs on a number of occasions as a young woman.

When page proofs of States of Grace arrived in New York from the printer in Hong Kong in October 1991, United States Customs seized them. At a court hearing in February 1992, the United States government announced, without filing charges, that the book contained depictions of minors engaged in “sexually explicit conduct” under United States law, which prohibits the portrayal of a “lascivious exhibition of the genitals.” One month later, at a second hearing on the matter, the head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) of the United States Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Robert Flores, identified the image of Ms. Hewes on page 54 of the book as the only potentially pornographic image in the book. (Actually, he equivocated, claiming there might be other pornographic images, although he was at a loss to explain which ones or why.) A month later, as the defence of the book was taking shape in New York, Robert Atkins, then a reporter for the Village Voice, interviewed Ms. Hewes, then 18, by telephone. She told him:
When I modeled for Graham, I’d make up the poses and he’d shoot them. He never asked me to be sexy and I never tried to…he’s been a family friend since I was four years old.4
The following month, Ms. Hewes flew to New York, where she made a sworn declaration that was submitted to the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. In pertinent part, it stated as follows:
I have known Graham Ovenden as a family friend for fourteen years – since I was four years old. I have modeled for Graham on numerous occasions – in fact, too numerous to count – for both his photographs and paintings. I have modeled for him both clothed and fully nude, both alone and with other children.... The portrait which the United States has charged as indecent is a portrait of me as I was eight years ago. I am not acting in a sexual way in the picture and Graham never asked me to be sexual or treated me as a sexual object. The accusation that the image is “obscene” is, to me, an accusation that I am “obscene,” something to which I take offense.5
Ms. Hewes also spoke about her photographs in the U.K., the first time on April 21, 1993, when she was interviewed by agents of both the Metropolitan Police, Obscene Publications Squad (OPS), and the Kirkwall police, after Mr. Ovenden was arrested by the OPS on suspicion of being part of a pornography “ring,” one of the obsessions of the police at the time. Her statement both affirms and adds to what she had previously said:
I have been shown a booklet of photographs 'MP 20' which contains images of myself. The photographs appear to pinpoint a certain age, although I have been widely photographed since I was about 4 until I was maybe 15 years old. All the people that I have worked with I have known very well, and have felt perfectly comfortable with them. I have never been indecently assaulted by any of them or forced to do anything against my wishes. I have now been through the "MP 20" booklet and initialed all the photos that I recognize of myself. I have also put the initials of the photographer when positively identified. All the photographs that I have identified as being Graham Ovenden's were taken at Barley Splatt....

I decline the idea that any of the images of myself are indecent and emphatically state that I was never abused, or photographed/drawn by co-ercion. Photographic or life drawing 'sessions' were never a prearranged appointment. I was at Graham Ovendens a lot of the time and the Ovendens were, are like a second family to me. Quite a lot of the time Emily and I would ask to be photographed. The only time a session was arranged was for the 'Alice Project' between Graham, Brian P and myself. Because it was a project sometimes we would decide that we ought to do some more for the project. The images in the 'MP 20" which I have marked G.O. refer to Graham Ovenden. Graham Ovenden is one of my best friends and also like a father figure. Signature: [M.] Hewes.6
At the time Ms. Hewes made that statement she was living in the Orkneys, very far from Cornwall, with her father and stepmother, both of whom were present on the day Ms. Hewes was questioned. Ms. Hewes’ stepmother, a friend of the Ovendens, posted a letter to Mr. Ovenden five days after Ms. Hewes made her statement. The letter is reproduced here in large part:
Nethermill, Rousay, Orkney                                                         Monday 26th April 1993

Dear Graham:

I’m typing this because my writing is becoming so unreadable these days. I enclose a photocopy of a bad photocopy of [Maud's] statement which you may wish to show to your solicitor. I insisted on getting it done at the fish factory in the last couple of minutes before Platt and Hills got on the 3.25 ferry. In my frantic hurry I didn’t line the first page up properly and so two lines are missing. I’ve typed up the statement so you can read it easily but you can make out [Maud’s] initialed alterations on the photocopy.

Michael Platt (the Met), Philip Hills (New Scotland Yard) and Morag Scrimgeur (Kirkwall Police) arrived at 11:15. Joseph and [Maud] were interviewed separately and privately, though the policewoman was present during [Maud’s] interview. I was not allowed to stay while Joseph was questioned. I did try to insist on it but was told they would have to take him somewhere else. Wish I’d been sure of the legal position. Have they a right to take someone who is not under arrest, only a witness? I was made to feel it would be very unreasonable if I kept on.

The mode of questioning was more like interrogation than anything else – very manipulative, full of leading questions and in Joseph’s case they used both veiled and open threats. After 20-30 minutes Platt had reduced [Maud] to tears. At this stage I was allowed in. She said he became much less heavy and manipulative after this. Eventually she agreed to write a statement. Platt tried to steer it but she resisted quite well. In fact she showed an admirable defiant independence. Platt read it and said later to Joseph that she had been schooled by Graham Ovenden. He forgets of course that she is nineteen, intelligent and articulate, and that she’s been out to the States to testify in a similar case.

Joseph was interviewed twice – long and hard. He was shown three or four photos which he recognized as G.O.’s because of the wallpaper! And two others which he could not identify. [Maud] was also unable to these. Platt was clearly very frustrated. Rather bad photos – I’m not surprised no one can remember them….

They were very anxious to extract evidence of a network for taking and distributing photos. They are convinced of this. … Joseph was asked if he had ever been to Germany with Graham Ovenden. Hills asked Joseph in my presence what he knows about the ‘Alice fantasy’! Upon my very spontaneous burst of laughter, he added “Don’t forget we’ve seen the correspondence. They seem to be looking for the ideal child to play Alice.” Later I heard Platt ask [Maud] how she felt now she was too old to be Alice. Similar mockery from [Maud]! Hills stated categorically in front of me that the Lewis Carroll Society was a cover for paedophiles to exchange photos of young girls! And Platt told Joseph during his second interview that all this is an attempt to use art to cover up paedophile practice. At this time Platt also accused Joseph of only just being able to keep the lid on it all – he was protecting others. [Maud] too was just managing to do the same – any minute now she would crack and spill out everything about everyone. They offered Joseph a deal – making a not so implicit promise to make things easier for him if he revealed all about everybody. They finished “We’ll be back in three months and this time you won’t know when we’re coming.”

Platt claimed that they had two disclosures of indecent assault already.* In the car on the way to the pier, appealing to my concern for [Maud], he said it had taken a month to get one girl to talk. (I don’t know what age this girl is now or if indeed she is part of this case – I was too intent on getting a photocopy – but the poor girl, he’d obviously kept on and on until he heard what he wanted to hear.)

Curiously, there was a programme on T.V. last night called “Street Legal” presented by Paul Foot. It dealt with misbehavior by the Metropolitan Police. Apparently a large increase of money has been set aside by them for the next three years to cover expected increases in compensation!

I’m sorry this letter is so long. You can tell how angry/agitated I am. I just hope that some of this is useful. I hope it arrives safely. Could you give me a quick ring to let me know? Love to you all from us both.

*[Those charges, if they existed, had nothing to do with Mr. Ovenden or anyone connected to him.]

Ms. Hewes was interviewed again in 1996, at the age of 22, for a documentary entitled “For the Sake of the Children,” which was part of the series Films of Fire and shown on Channel 4 in 1997.7 She not only affirmed her earlier statements about her photographs, but pointed out that images shown to her by the Metropolitan Police had been manipulated by them and did not reflect the original work, or intent, of Mr. Ovenden.

Intent, however, is not an issue when it comes to determining whether an image is “indecent.” This topic will be covered in greater detail later, but the standard of what is “indecent” under British law ostensibly precludes a consideration of either the intent of the maker or the context in which the image was made. Motivation and context are only relevant, if at all, to show that the images were made intentionally rather than by accident. As the Court of Appeal stated in Regina v. Graham-Kerr [1988] 1WLR 1098,
The question, as it seems to us, is whether the photograph itself is indecent. Photographs, after all, may last a large number of years, pass from hand to hand and so on. In our view it is not possible to relate the question of whether or not a photograph is indecent with the original motivation of the person who took it. It may be that the original motivation was perfectly innocent subjectively regarded; but if the photograph is one which right-thinking people would regard as indecent, the motivation of the original taker, in our view, cannot be a relevant matter.
The court in Graham-Kerr also approved of the lower court’s instruction to the jury to “apply the standard of decency which ordinary right-thinking members of the public would set.” This standard, the Court of Appeal found, was no different from the alternative formulation, that the jury should apply “recognised standards of propriety.”

Judge Cottle’s instruction to the jury in Mr. Ovenden’s case regarding the three photographs was much the same: “The question is – would right-minded people regard such photographs as ‘indecent’?”8 Technically, that instruction was correct. But how is it possible that the jury could have ignored the plainly prejudicial conjectures of prosecutor Quaife that Mr. Ovenden was “a paedophile,”9 one who “abused children in Cornwall and London, sometimes while taking photographs,”10 and is “besotted with little girls.”11 Although these claims were unsupported by any evidence, they were clearly aimed at dirtying up Mr. Ovenden so as to predispose the jury to convict him.

Moreover, what was the jury to make of images, which were not the subject of any charge and did not depict actual children, shown and described by the prosecution near the end of the trial during Mr. Ovenden’s cross-examination? These were composite works – collages – made up from original drawings and paintings by Mr. Ovenden not depicting any real people, together with pictures from adult (not child) pornographic magazines. The collages, which suggested that the child figures in the drawings were engaging in hard core sexual acts, were actually an interim step for a series that came to be titled, “As Through A Glass Darkly.”12(To say that the collages depicted children engaged in sexual acts would be inaccurate, both for the fact that no actual child was portrayed and that the images were plainly collages and not intended to look real.)

DVD evidenceThe police and prosecution were well aware that the composite works were an interim step because those images had been securely deleted by Mr. Ovenden from his hard drive once the final work was completed. Using special forensic software, the police recovered the explicit composite images, which were in a deleted folder titled “DESTROY IT.” But the police would have first viewed the final works on a data DVD seized from Mr. Ovenden’s studio. There were two copies, both of which were put into separate evidence bags. (“Copy 2,” shown here, was left behind.)

As Through A Glass Darkly ( Frontice)
To create the final works of the series, Mr. Ovenden took the explicit images he had created and overlaid them with visual “noise” from severely deteriorated Victorian glass negatives, giving the work a sense of “random acts of destruction of time.” The explicit content was thus only alluded to but not shown, creating a discomforting visual tension to the work. (Three of the final works are shown here.)

As Through a Glass Darkly 06The prosecution showed the jury two of the sexually explicit interim works and described the rest of them in graphic detail as evidence of the alleged motivation behind all of Mr. Ovenden’s artwork. That this evidence was far more prejudicial than probative of any aspect of the offences with which Mr. Ovenden was charged cannot be doubted. They do not make it more or less likely that he committed the offences of child abuse for which he was charged; nor do they make it more likely that he created “indecent” images of his models. They did, however, instill in the minds of the jurors concrete images to remember while they considered the specimen charges, that is, the photographs of Maud Hewes that they were never shown. Given that they saw only about half a dozen photographs by Mr. Ovenden during the entire trial (only three of which were charged as “indecent”), it was inevitable that the interim images and their descriptions would loom large in the jurors’ minds. As Through a Glass Darkly 15In the interest of basic fairness, the judge should have excluded the composite images from the trial, but basic fairness was hardly the order of the day.

Something or someone made Maud Hewes change her mind about the images Mr. Ovenden took of her, but she was not forthcoming about it. When she was questioned by Mr. Ovenden’s QC, she claimed not to have remembered her statement to the Metropolitan Police twenty years ago, which seems quite unlikely given the fact that it was a topic of conversation at home and she spoke about it to others and discussed it in the documentary, “For the Sake of the Children.” Notwithstanding her change of mind and regardless of prosecutor Quaife’s jaundiced view of the supposed “paedophilic” intent of Mr. Ovenden’s art, history will vindicate Mr. Ovenden. As his daughter, whose image appears in States of Grace together with Ms. Hewes, told The Guardian in 1993, 
We were always an open household and as young children would often run round naked … These pictures were just never anything to do with sex.13


1“Graham Ovenden convicted of child sex offences,” The Guardian, April 2, 2013, 12:23.BST.

2Ovenden, Graham. States of Grace. Ophelia Editions, New York & Amsterdam, 1992, p. 10.

3Cooper, Rob, “Artist Graham Ovenden found guilty of indecency against young girls after using nude children in his paintings,” Daily Mail Online, April 2, 2013, 15:21 GMT.

4Atkins, Robert, “Lolita Syndrome,” Village Voice, April 14, 1992.

5Id., note 2, page 80.

6Statement of Maud Hewes, age 19, April 21, 1993, taken by Michael Platt, Metropolitan Police (OPS), Philip Hills, New Scotland Yard, and Morag Scrimgeur, PC441, Kirkwall Police. Typographical errors in the original.

7 The interview will hopefully be transcribed and posted on this blog.

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

9BBC News, “Artist Graham Ovenden accused of being paedophile,” March 11, 2013, 16:48 GMT;; McDermott, Kerry, “Internationally acclaimed artist ‘sexually abused young girls in nighties after blindfolding them’,” Daily Mail Online, March 11, 2013;

10“Graham Ovenden child sex abuse trial: Nakedness ‘no shame’, BBC News, March 21, 2013, 16:08 GMT.

11Morris, Steven, “Artist Graham Ovenden denies abusing young models,” The Guardian, March 21, 2013.


13Morris, Steven, “Graham Ovenden lived in rambling rural idyll with a dark side,” The Guardian, April 2, 2013, 20:32 BST.

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.