POLICE dropped a 1980s investigation into a North Devon teacher who went on to abuse more children, it has emerged.
Simon Harris, 55, was this week found guilty of seven charges of indecent and sexual assault on youngsters as well as possessing indecent images of children.
The crimes happened during his time as a charity worker in Kenya, a role he was able to take up despite being suspended from working at Shebbear College, near Holsworthy, after allegations were made by pupils there that he indecently assaulted them in the 1980s.
The complaints were investigated by Devon and Cornwall Police but dropped because the force says the boys’ families did not want the cases pursued. It was only when West Mercia Police, which was investigating the Kenya abuse, re-opened the Shebbear College case that Harris was charged with committing the earlier assaults.
In the intervening years he had taken up work for a children’s charity and was able to abuse again.
Harris, of Pudlestone, Herefordshire, last year admitted six offences of indecent assault against three boys at Shebbear College.
Pupils at the school told Russell Buley, the headteacher at the time, of Harris’ behaviour towards them.
Current head Simon Weale said the private school had done everything it could to protect children in its care and paid tribute to children who came forward complaining about Harris’ crimes. Harris was suspended when the allegations came to light and police and social services informed.
He resigned from the school while investigations were under way.
Mr Weale said: “Even though these offences took place more than 25 years ago, we utterly deplore these crimes and our overwhelming sympathies are with Harris’ victims.
“Shebbear College has co-operated fully with the police throughout. Safeguarding the pupils in our care is of the utmost importance. We follow best practice and continuously monitor and strengthen the college’s procedures, vetting and reporting.”
A spokesman for West Mercia Police said inquiries in the Kenya case led them to reinvestigate the Shebbear College claims.
West Mercia Police said it went to great lengths to pursue a prosecution and helped witnesses to give evidence against Harris via satellite link from a Kenyan town.
Harris was prosecuted using legislation which allows British citizens to be tried for sex offences committed abroad against children if it is also an offence in that country.
A jury found him guilty of five sex assaults and two indecent assaults in Kenya.
Harris was cleared of seven charges, including rape and awaits sentence for all crimes.
Devon ant Cornwall Police said the case would be treated very differently if it happened today.
“In the late 1980s the head teacher of Shebbear made a referral to Devon and Cornwall Police disclosing concerns about Harris,” a statement said.
“As part of the West Mercia investigation it has been established that the families involved at that time did not want to make formal allegations. It was also established at that time that Shebbear College had taken steps to safeguard their children. In 1990 Devon and Cornwall Police alerted West Mercia Police to the information held regarding Harris.
“Clearly much has changed in both society and policing in the 25 years since 1989, not least the introduction of Sex Offender registration in 1997 and the Sexual Offences Act in 2004. Procedures for barring persons from working or volunteering in jobs or other activities where they might come into contact with children and other vulnerable groups where it is believed they might be a danger to them have also been introduced.
“Police procedures relating to the recording of crime have also been improved and today a formal crime report would be recorded irrespective of any intention to investigate that crime.
“In this case the police took cognisance of the views of the families involved and as a consequence there was no police investigation.
“For any person to come forward and report that they have been the victim of sexual abuse takes courage. To be at the centre of an investigation dealing with such sensitive issues which might ultimately be aired in court can be daunting. Devon and Cornwall Police recognises these pressures and will take into account the wishes of victims and in the vast majority of cases respect those wishes.”