Acclaimed artist Graham Ovenden denies sex abuse of young girls
Internationally acclaimed artist Graham Ovenden has been described in court as a paedophile who put sticky tape over young girls' eyes as a "ritual" before committing indecent acts.
Ovenden, who told police that he had a "major reputation" for having "some of the best portraits of children in the last 200 years", is accused of sexually abusing children at his former and current homes in London and Cornwall respectively, dating back 40 years.
The 70-year-old artist, whose work has hung in a Tate gallery, denies nine charges of indecency with a child and indecent assault on alleged victims aged between six and 14.
Ovenden, who Truro Crown Court was told is also a founding member of The Brother-hood of Ruralists collective alongside pop artist Peter Blake, was said to regularly invite other artists to his home at Panters Bridge, near Mount, Bodmin, in North Cornwall from the 1970s on. While there, they would paint and take photographs based on a set theme, including Alice in Wonderland.
But one witness yesterday told the court his home was also the setting for Ovenden's abuse of her.
Speaking from behind a screen, the woman said: "He asked if he could take some photos of us (the woman – then a girl – and a similar-aged girl). He did it in his art studio. It was upstairs in the house itself.
"I would have to go in by myself. I would then be made to take my clothes off and put on some kind of gown. I would have my eyes stuck down with black tape.
"We would have to go through this strange ritual.
"The building itself was very unusual. It is like no other house you've ever seen. Colour, turrets, arched windows. They also had quite a lot of visitors."
She said she blanked out the memories from her childhood, although she had previously told her mother she did not like being photographed by Ovenden.
Christopher Quinlan QC, representing Ovenden, suggested the reason the woman did not tell her mother about the abuse in detail is because it did not happen.
He also asked why the woman returned to Ovenden's home around ten years later, as an 18-year-old, and had her picture taken by Ovenden.
Presented with the image of her smiling in the court today, she said: "I haven't got a clue (why I went back)."
Mr Quinlan asked: "If he (Ovenden) had done that to you, why did you go back to visit him?"
The woman replied: "I don't know."
She added: "You're not going to break me. I'm sticking by my story."
When asked by prosecutor Ramsay Quaife about why she did not tell anyone about what happened, she replied: "It's only when you get older you realise. It is unnatural, weird, scary and I didn't want to do it.
"I'm sure I won't be the first or last kid to keep some horrible secret from people."
Mr Quaife described how the four alleged victims – who cannot be named for legal reasons – had previously posed for Ovenden. The victims said they were not able to see because they had sticky tape put over their eyes before being abused, Mr Quaife told the court.
The women made formal complaints to police in the late 2000s, he said.
Mr Quaife told the court: "What we (the Crown Prosecution Service) say is that Mr Ovenden is a paedophile, that 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.
"During the course of interviews with police, Mr Ovenden was to describe himself as an artist, a distinguished artist.
"He told police he still has a very major reputation as probably having entered some of the best portraits of children in the last 200 years."
Upon his arrest over the alleged abuse of one of the girls, Ovenden admitted he had taken the girl's photograph – a few of them being "nudies", the court was told. But he denied all of her allegations that they were of a sexual nature.
The trial was adjourned until today. It is listed to last for up to three weeks.