Sexual abuse charities were furious today after a famous artist who molested his underage models avoided because he is ”no longer a threat” to children.
Graham Ovenden, 70, invited girls as young as six to his home to sit for his celebrated portraits and photographs.
But he used his art as a “convenient cover story” for sexual attacks – often blindfolding his victims and making them parade in Victorian nighties before abusing them.
During the height of his career Ovenden’s work was displayed at galleries including the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The art world sprang to his defence after his arrest and he always denied the abuse and said the photos he took of the children were artistic not pornographic.
But despite being found guilty of a string of child sex crimes in April he avoided a jail term.
He was handed a 12 month sentence, suspended for two years, after a judge ruled he no longer posed a threat to kids.
But leading child abuse charities have slammed the suspended prison sentence as “outrageous”.
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “It’s an absolutely outrageous decision.
“A suspended sentence is not the appropriate sentence for such serious crimes and it doesn’t take into account the suffering inflicted on the victims.
“The issue of whether he poses a threat to society should be irrelevant. The judiciary is sending out the message that this crime is not taken seriously.”
Sentencing at Plymouth Crown Court, Judge Graham Cottle said guidelines allowed for a jail term of between two and five and years.
But he added: “In the end it comes down to the question as to whether or not the custodial sentence I consider appropriate can properly be suspended.
“In reaching a decision as of that, I take into account your age, the age of the offences, the considerable self-inflicted punishment that comes with your convictions, your steep fall from grace and your irreversibly tarnished reputation.
“I do not consider that you now pose, or have posed for some years, a risk to children.”
Ovenden lives at an estate in the heart of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall where his victims claimed he had committed offences against them in the 1970s and 80s.
Judge Cottle told him: “You were living at a house on Bodmin Moor to which a stream of young female children came accompanied by their mothers.
“You would take the children to your studio to photograph them. They had no understanding at that time what you were doing.
“There can be no doubt that at that time you had a sexual interest in children. You maintained that it was an artistic interest, an artistic interest in the naked female form.”
The victims all made formal complaints to police in the late 2000s and the pensioner was arrested in 2008.
But when officers confronted Ovenden he boasted of his reputation in the art world and said he had painted some of the “best portraits of children in the last 200 years”.
He dismissed the case as a “witch-hunt” and said there was “no shame” in pictures of nude children.
But jurors heard Ovenden, who studied under Sir Peter Blake, had a “sexual appetite for children that went beyond art”.
He was convicted of six charges of indecency with a child and one allegation of indecent assault, relating to three children. He was cleared of five further charges.
The indecent assault relates to the touching of a girl’s breasts through her clothes.
One of the indecency counts involves an incident in which he got into a bath with the same girl and asked her to touch him.
The other indecency charges relate to photographs he took of two other girls.
Ovenden thanked the judge yesterday as his sentence was handed out.
Christopher Quinlan QC, defending, told the court his client’s reputation had suffered a severe blow and he was in bad health.
He said: “There has been a deal of publicity with this case, it has appeared in the national newspapers.
“His name has been associated with this crime and it has led to a loss of reputation. His work has been withdrawn from the Tate.”
The Tate Gallery came under fire in the wake of Ovenden’s April conviction for continuing to display 34 of his works on its website.
The art, including provocative images of pre-pubescent girls with lurid titles such as “Lure Me” and “You ought to be ashamed of yourself”, were later removed.
Most dated back to the same early 1970s period Ovenden was actively abusing children.