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Child sex case artist avoids jail

An internationally-renowned artist who was found guilty of a string of sex charges against children has avoided prison.

Graham Ovenden, who studied under the so-called "Godfather of Pop-Art" Sir Peter Blake, received 12 months' imprisonment suspended for two years.

The 70-year-old was convicted by a jury in April of six charges of indecency with a child and one allegation of indecent assault relating to three girls. They acquitted him of two further indecent assaults. The jury had earlier found Ovenden not guilty of three charges of indecent assault on the direction of the trial judge.

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

Passing sentence at Plymouth Crown Court, Judge Graham Cottle said Ovenden was motivated by a sexual interest in children.

"The girls involved in this indictment had no understanding at that time of the true purpose of what you were doing and that purpose was undoubtedly sexual. There can be no doubt that at that time you had a sexual interest in children," he told him.

The judge added: "You enjoyed a reputation as a very eminent landscape artist in particular. In the art world if your work may remain undiminished by your convictions, your personal reputation has been severely tarnished. In addition, galleries that were pleased to display your work have withdrawn your works from their displays."

The judge said he took into account the many references and letters written by Ovenden's supporters who spoke of his "kindness and generosity of spirit". He said Ovenden's strongest mitigation would have been to plead guilty but instead he put his victims through the ordeal of a trial.

Speaking after the hearing, Ovenden described the prosecution as a "witch hunt" and a "conspiracy", and said he planned to appeal. He added: "I am not backing down and under no circumstances am I apologising for crimes that were never committed. 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. He added: "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."

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