Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Graham Ovenden sentenced, avoids prison

Graham Ovenden was sentenced today at Plymouth Crown Court to twelve months, suspended for two years. For those unfamiliar with court sentencing that means Mr. Ovenden will not do any jail time unless he commits a new infraction during the next two years.

In the wake of his sentencing, the British press, with the sole exception of The Guardian,1 continued to libel Mr. Ovenden, citing as facts contentions of the prosecution relating to charges that were either dismissed during the trial or disbelieved by the jury and resulted in Mr. Ovenden's acquittal. The BBC wrote:
[Mr. Ovenden] was described in court by prosecutor Ramsay Quaife as "a paedophile" who abused four children - now all adults - between 1972 and 1985 while they modelled for him.

The jury heard Ovenden's portraiture formed part of a ruse for abusing girls.

He made his victims dress in old fashioned clothing before removing it and committing indecent acts, the court was told.2
The Western Morning News also regurgitated claims made by prosecutor Ramsay Quaife during trial, adding that "All four of the claimants are now adult women. Their allegations go back some years, but at the time they were all girls."3

The headline at The Daily Mail, on the other hand, was a leap into pure fantasy: "soft sentence that even surprised a pervert: Judge FREES artist who sexually abused three children as young as six while they posed for his paintings."4

Notwithstanding the prevailing gutter press mentality, here is the truth: two of the four witnesses told the jury that Mr. Ovenden never abused them. The two other witnesses told the jury a story about being blindfolded and abused, dressed and undressed, but the jury disbelieved them and acquitted Mr. Ovenden. They convicted Mr. Ovenden of 2 minor charges related to a single witness, but those alleged incidents had nothing to do with sessions for photography or painting. The remaining charges pertained to the alleged character of 3 photographs, not the sexual abuse of minors.

Judge Cottle claimed at the sentencing hearing that those 3 photographs (two of which were printed by the police to emphasise the genitalia) were typical of Mr. Ovenden's work, but there was no evidence before Judge Cottle or the jury to support such a claim. Judge Cottle also speculated that the girls who came to be photographed by Mr. Ovenden
had no understanding at that time of the true purpose behind what you were doing, a purpose that was undoubtedly sexual...There can be no doubt that at the time you had a sexual interest in children. You maintained that it was an artistic interest in the female form. The jury disagreed...4
The statement was disingenuous for two reasons. First, law and jurisprudence require that the jury not take into account any intent, whether sexual or innocent, so if the jury did "disagree" with Mr. Ovenden, they acted outside the law -- and without the benefit of a full defense of the photographs within the context of Graham Ovenden's oevre, because Judge Cottle would not permit such a defense.

Second, there was simply no evidence in the case, or anywhere, that the "true purpose" of Graham Ovenden's photography was "sexual." This is simply moralist hyperbole. The two models in the 3 photographs determined by the jury to be "indecent" -- those were the same two who said they were never molested by Mr. Ovenden -- defended Mr. Ovenden's work and the practice of his photography well into their twenties. Even at trial, one of them would only say that the image of her that was part of the charges was "not me," while the other did not disavow her earlier support, but said that she now believes that children should not be photographed in such poses. It is worth pointing out that 20 years ago she told a court: "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...."

When the BBC interviewed Mr. Ovenden on the courthouse steps after the sentencing, its reporter sounded like a petulant schoolboy reading a script he'd just been handed, not a professional journalist. Here is part of the exchange:
BBC: "Isn't it just time to be honest and straight and true and say "I'm sorry"?"

Graham Ovenden: "No, isn't it about time that the media started being honest and straight and true and stopped this mindless witch hunt which is going on at the moment."

BBC: "What have we done wrong in reporting a jury's verdict against you?"

Graham Ovenden: "Well, in regards to jury verdicts, I mean, are you so naïve as to think that in a jury, that in fact, truth always lies?"

BBC: "So everybody is wrong apart from you."

Graham Ovenden: "Well, since I'm about twenty times more intelligent than most people, I think that would be a very reasonable assumption."5
Mr. Ovenden might have said that no, not "everybody" is wrong apart from him. He was not convicted by a unanimous jury on the two minor counts involving JB. (Those were the only counts having to do with supposed sexual contact with a minor.) And in any event, the unanimous verdict declaring 3 photographs to be "indecent" is hardly indicative of a consensus by "everybody."

Mr. Ovenden's appeals continue.

1Morris, Steven, "Graham Ovenden gets suspended sentence for child sexual offenses. The Guardian, 4 June 2013; http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jun/04/graham-ovenden-suspended-sentence-sexual-offences

Although generally truthful about the charges for which Graham Ovenden was convicted, The Guardian's reporting was hardly a model of objective journalism.

2"Graham Ovenden sex crimes: Artist gets suspended sentence." BBC News, 4 June 2013; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-22763701

3"Disgraced artist Graham Ovenden given suspended sentence for child sex offences." Western Morning News, This is Cornwall, June 04, 2013; http://www.cornishguardian.co.uk/Disgraced-artist-Graham-Ovenden-given-suspended/story-19181467-detail/story.html

4Cooper, Rob, "The soft sentence that even surprised a pervert: Judge FREES artist who sexually abused three children as young as six while they posed for his paintings." Mail Online, 04 June 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2335744/Internationally-renowned-artist-sexually-abused-children-young-posed-paintings-walks-free-court.html

5Artist says case is 'witch hunt.' BBC, 4 June 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22768106

1 comment:

  1. Good to see there's life in the old boy.
    From that Mail article:

    Speaking after the hearing, Ovenden described the prosecution as a 'witch hunt' and a 'conspiracy' and said he planned to appeal. 'I am not backing down and under no circumstances am I apologising for crimes that were never committed,' Ovenden said. 'Quite frankly the history of the world is the history of accusations that were not true. I have been through considerable hell on this.' Ovenden said he was surprised to receive a suspended prison sentence. 'I am quite gobsmacked and I have to thank Judge Cottle for his judgment this time but with the language he used one anticipated getting banged up,' he said.

    'These are images that lie in museums all over Europe and America and we are talking about incredibly beautifully produced images as well. 'What is a sexual image? You need to see them. The problem of child sexuality is a problem first and foremost a problem of the Anglo-Saxon Christian fundamentalist. All this anguish has come from America.'

    Ovenden denied the victims in the case were traumatised by what he put them through - describing it as 'complete and utter bollocks'.