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World-renowned artist is found guilty of child abuse

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 03, 2013

By Rod Minchin

  • Artist Graham Ovenden, who was convicted in his absence yesterday at Truro Crown Court on child sex charges. He was taken ill at the weekend

  • Artist Graham Ovenden at his studio in Bodmin. He had denied sexually abusing young girls but was found guilty by a jury in Truro yesterday after a trial

An internationally renowned artist from Cornwall has been found guilty of a string of sex offences against children.

Graham Ovenden, who studied under the so-called "Godfather of Pop-Art" Sir Peter Blake, was not in court to see the jury forewoman return the verdicts, having been taken ill.

A jury of seven men and five women at Truro Crown Court found Ovenden guilty of six charges of indecency with a child and one allegation of indecent assault.

They acquitted him of two indecent assaults.

The jury earlier found Ovenden not guilty of three charges of indecent assault on the direction of Judge Graham Cottle.

Ovenden, of The Garage in Barley Splatt, near Bodmin Moor, denied all the charges relating to four children – now all adults – between 1972 and 1985.

Judge Graham Cottle adjourned sentence until a date to be fixed, but said it would take place at Plymouth Crown Court. Ovenden was released on bail.

He was not in court having been taken ill over the weekend.

Christopher Quinlan QC, defending, told the judge that Ovenden was resting at home having received treatment at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.

The 70-year-old's artwork – much celebrated in galleries across the world at the height of his commercial popularity – includes portraits of nude children.

But he denied indecency, disputing claims that he had a sexual interest in children and allegations by four witnesses that he abused them as young models.

Ovenden described himself in court as a modest man, but told police he had a "major reputation" for creating "some of the best portraits of children in the last 200 years".

He also declared himself one of the "two or three great painters" in the world, citing his work being published in numerous books and having been hung in some of the world's finest galleries.

But the court heard his portraiture formed part of a ruse for abusing girls, making them dress in Victorian clothing before removing it and committing indecent acts.

The incidents, dating back 40 years, took place at his former home in Hounslow, London, as well as at his current address in North Cornwall, where he had a studio.

Prosecutor Ramsay Quaife told the court: "What we (the Crown Prosecution Service) say is that Mr Ovenden is a paedophile, that he is a sexual abuser of children. In this case we say the target of his abuse was young girls.

"All four of the claimants are now adult women. Their allegations go back some years, but at the time they were all girls."

Ovenden spoke frankly from the witness box, quoting biblical and literary works in explaining his use of naked children as part of his "state of grace" body of work.

He also described the "neuroses" of the prosecutor, and the "witch-hunt" that plagued the art world from those who disagreed with the naked child form.

Referring to one of his subjects, who cannot be named for legal reasons, he said: "[She] was a beautiful child – not only as she was, as you see her in front of a camera, but also as a person.

"It is important that someone pays homage to that and place her in a state of grace.

"I think holding those things, by photography or painting, is a moral obligation."

Although he has since sold Barley Splatt, Ovenden remains on the sprawling estate as he lives in a converted outbuilding.

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