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 naïve 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,


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