The double life of Simon Harris

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Insight into the life of a former Herefordshire teacher found guilty of child abuse in Kenya.

Simon Harris lived a double life. He concealed from so many people his dreadful, dark secrets.

In Herefordshire, he lived on the edge of a little, remote, scattered rural community called Pudleston.

He had a small stone detached cottage off a winding single-track lane on the side of a hill, surrounded by fields and rolling countryside.

Harris was quite well known in this area – with friends in surrounding areas like Tenbury Wells, Bredenbury, Docklow and Bromyard.

I met a number of these people but no-one was particularly keen to appear on camera, saying they didn’t want to get involved.

But it was a common theme among them they had no idea what he’d been up to in Africa – and even much closer to home.

People had been shocked to discover he’d been sexually abusing young boys in both Kenya and England, and keeping indecent images of them, some of them classed as being the most extreme and depraved type of pornography.

No-one knew he’d already been in jail for possessing these chilling pictures. And no-one knew that back in the 1980’s a number of boys had made allegations about him abusing them at a school in Devon.

Simon Harris – a whisky drinker – was often seen driving at night in his Volvo around the quiet country lanes of Herefordshire after visiting local pubs in a 10-mile radius.

He was, according to one publican, popular, always bought his round, and enjoyed a good laugh. People described him as charming, very well educated. Although he didn’t appear to have an extravagant lifestyle, he was seen as a bit of a country gent. And he was often spotted out and about with women. One woman in Tenbury told me he actually gave the impression he was a “bit of a ladies man”. But, she said, he was once seen walking down the main street with a very young boy; something that was quite possibly totally innocent and attracted little attention at the time, but which has been the subject of much local gossip since the news broke about his arrest.

A neighbour Rupert Anton was willing to go on-the-record about Harris. Although he didn’t know him very well, he said he’d met him at occasional get-togethers with a group of locals.

Mr Anton tells me: “I have to say over supper, you have to speak as you find, he was very engaging company. He was clearly widely read, widely travelled, he wasn’t loud, he wasn’t arrogant. He was just somebody who was easy to talk to. ” So his arrest, his trial, and guilty pleas to child abuse in the 1980s, came as a shock to the neighbours.

As Mr Anton put it: “You could have knocked me over with a feather.”

He was clearly widely read, widely travelled, he wasn’t loud, he wasn’t arrogant. He was just somebody who was easy to talk to. “

– Rupert Anton, Neighbour

It was the same for people who’d worked with Simon Harris out in the remote village of Gilgil in Kenya. The National Crime Agency and West Mercia Police think they have identified around 40 young people in that area – children who lived on the streets in extreme poverty – who had been targeted by Harris for his sexual gratification. They expect there are many more victims, going back years.

Harris spent a lot of time out there, running an organisation called VAE Kenya to help children with their education. It is an organisation that appears to have done genuine good work, using volunteers from the UK who had good intentions, and who did good things.

However, the police strongly suspect Harris was using this as a respectable front for some truly ghastly deeds; that his own personal motivation was not to rescue young boys, but to exploit them in the cruellest of ways.

These were very vulnerable children, living on the streets, begging for food and shelter, facing the constant threat of violence and all kinds of abuse from various predators. To them, say the police, a visit to Harris’s home on the outskirts of Gilgil – known as The Green House – was like going from hell to heaven. Heaven, that is, until they discovered a new form of hell.

One young boy we spoke to out there tells a truly sad story – of how Harris threw him back out on to the streets, after failing to rape him at the Green House. But, as Mary Coulson, of another charity out there, told us:

“If you say to… the street boys who were victims…why did you not report it? They say: ‘who would have believed me against someone like him? Who would have actually believed me’? “Nobody would have believed them.”

Rumours abounded in the community and even some of those who did not appear to know about the sexual abuse accusations at the time, thought Harris’s behaviour was a bit odd. He had, our researcher was told, been seen giving money to street children, and had allowed them to smoke and drink alcohol in his car. Some slept in Harris’s own bedroom.

The scandal broke after allegations about Harris were made to a documentary team from Channel 4, whilst making a programme in Gilgil about the general plight of Kenyan street boys.

West Mercia Police and the National Crime Agency delved into his murky background – and the story of his sexual exploitation in Kenya came to light in detail. And back into the spotlight came sexual allegations made against him way back in the 1980’s in Devon.

According to the police investigators, officials at a school where he worked, had investigated allegations about him from a number of young boys. After this, he had resigned. The school notified Devon and Cornwall Police. But detectives say Harris escaped court proceedings back then because the parents of the boys at the centre of the allegations did not want to have their children put through the ordeal of a trial.

Particularly in this post-Jimmy Savile era, things are very different now, say the police. And three decades on, a dossier from the time was re-opened and used as part of a criminal prosecution that led to admissions from Harris. Indeed, in the case of the Kenyan victims, the British police were so keen to get a prosecution against Harris, they went to extraordinary lengths to pursue the case over there.

Although UK citizens have been pursued by the UK courts for crimes committed abroad, this was the first prosecution of its kind in Africa. The National Crime Agency and West Mercia had to build the trust of the Kenyan authorities, and the local people around Gilgil.

The logistical problems were immense. The street children, in most cases, don’t have addresses. They, of course, live on the street. They don’t speak English. It’s often hard to find them. There was no way they could be flown to England to stand as witnesses in a trial.

So, a makeshift court had to be built out in Gilgil. Creating a live video link to Birmingham Crown Court had its challenges, as there are often power cuts in rural Africa, and internet connectivity is poor.

Despite all those issues, the case went ahead. Harris, say the police, had hoped to get away with his crimes in Africa. After all, as the charity worker Mary Coulson said, who would believe the street boys against the word of someone like Simon Harris, a man whose friends and neighbours thought was a respectable country gent?

Well, it seems, the jury at Birmingham Crown Court believed at least some of what the boys said. But they also cleared Simon Harris of a number of serious allegations.

One of the boys in Kenya who had made allegations of rape against Harris is believed to have committed suicide during the case. His allegation had been withdrawn due to a legal technicality. The judge told the jurors it wasn’t known if the apparent suicide was linked to this case which he described as deeply unpleasant.


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