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Ex-teacher guilty of Kenyans' abuse

A former public school teacher described by police as a prolific and calculating sexual predator has been convicted of abusing vulnerable young Kenyan street children.

Charity boss Simon Harris had denied luring boys using food, money and the promise of schooling to his luxury home in the East African country where prosecutors say all the abuse took place.

Harris, of Pudleston near Leominster in Herefordshire, has been on trial at Birmingham Crown Court, which has seen testimony from witnesses over a 6,500-mile video link.

Harris, 55, was today convicted of three indecent assaults and five sexual assaults, with one of his five victims as young as nine.

He was also found guilty of four charges of possessing indecent images of children, but cleared of another.

However, he was acquitted of 10 other sex offences including four of child rape, and two of attempted rape.

Harris, who stood in the dock calmly as the verdicts were read out by the jury foreman, was told he would be sentenced for his crimes on January 30, next year.

After the trial, West Mercia Police's Detective Chief Inspector Damian Barrett, whose officers led the complex investigation, described Harris as a "manipulative, predatory sex offender" and a "very dangerous" abuser of children who had "groomed" his victims in ruthless fashion.

Colleagues from the National Crime Agency (NCA), whose officers also travelled to Kenya in a bid to trace Harris's victims, described him as "one of the most prolific child sex offenders" they had ever encountered.

The jury, which has been deliberating a total of 23 charges against the former private school Latin teacher, delivered its verdicts over several hours today.

The panel of five women and seven men was unable agree a verdict on one allegation that Harris had raped a child under 13, and the judge discharged them of their duty in relation to the count.

Judge Philip Parker QC had also earlier directed the jury to find Harris not guilty of one count of attempted rape.

All the sex offending was said to have happened at Harris' luxury Kenyan residence, known as The Greenhouse, near the shanty town of Gilgil, between 2002 and May 2013.

The home, set in acres of lush gardens, was also the base of his charity VAE which placed gap-year teaching students into local schools - although police described the operation as part of Harris' cover story, which he had used to shield his offending and offer a presentable face to the local community.

Harris was only brought to justice after a Channel 4 documentary team working on a programme for the Unreported World television series, tipped off the police in 2013 about Harris after filming interviews with the victims in Gilgil.

Their information then triggered a joint investigation by the NCA and West Mercia Police in to the former teacher's movements in Kenya, in what is understood to be one of the force's most expensive criminal inquiries.

"There's no doubt he targeted young boys who were living on the streets in Kenya," said Mr Barrett.

He said Harris had "exploited the vulnerability" of his victims, who lived a desperate existence on the streets, describing the former public school house master as "a very dangerous individual".

Mr Barrett said Harris' method of offering rewards also meant his victims were often ensnared into putting up with abuse rather than immediately going back to a despairing life on the streets.

"They had a very poverty-stricken life and he's exploited that vulnerability such that I think they suffered the offending against them because of the benefits they had," he added.

In order to prosecute Harris, a little-utilised piece of legislation was used giving English courts jurisdiction to try offences carried out by Britons abroad - including certain sex offences.

QC for the Crown Kevin Hegarty described the mechanism in court as "the long arm of the law - reaching out to try cases in English courts".

Discharging the jury after their verdicts, Judge Parker told them their part had been "indispensable" adding that "marshalling this case from Kenya must have been very difficult" and "traumatic".

He also had the sad duty of informing jurors that one of the original complainants in the case, who had given video link evidence, was "believed to have committed suicide" during proceedings, prompting some of the panel to shake their heads.

What had earlier emerged in the course of evidence during the eight-week trial was that Harris had spent 15 months in a British jail for possession of indecent images of children following a 2009 conviction.

The jury were also told he had admitted six counts of sexual assault against three teenage pupils at Shebbear College in Devon, where he taught Latin during the 1980s.

Speaking after the trial, the college's current headmaster Simon Weale said the school had acted promptly at the time in reporting the allegations to police, after the victims made complaints about his behaviour.

He described Harris' abuse of pupils, between 1982 and 1989, as deplorable crimes, adding "our overwhelming sympathies are with Harris' victims".

Outside court, Kelvin Lay, senior investigation officer from the NCA's Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre, said: "Harris is among the most prolific child sex offenders I have ever come across and the precise number of his victims may never be known.

"His actions were extremely calculated. He hoped that by targeting the most vulnerable children in a rural location in Africa he would get away with it.

"His mistake was to underestimate our determination to track down and bring to account UK nationals who commit abuse, be that in the UK or abroad."

He described the investigation to bring the former teacher to justice as "extremely complex".

"However, most of all I pay tribute to the victims who had the bravery to stand up against Harris and give evidence," he added.

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