PRETORIA: Australian-born former tennis Grand Slam champion Bob Hewitt was sentenced to six years in jail in South Africa on Monday for raping and assaulting young girls he coached in the 1980s and 1990s.
Hewitt, 75, had pleaded not guilty to the two charges of rape and one of sexual assault that were brought against him by three women in 2013.
Hewitt won numerous Grand Slam doubles titles during his career in the 1960s and 1970s and was named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992.
But his name was removed from the hall of fame following sexual abuse allegations.
“The effective period of imprisonment is six years,” Judge Bert Bam told the High Court in Pretoria after delivering separate sentences for the three crimes.
“Justice must be seen to be done, even to ageing offenders and even after the expiration of many years after the crime.”
Bam said that if Hewitt had been aged 50 when he was convicted he would have been sentenced to 20 years in jail, adding that Hewitt was solely to blame for his fate.
Hewitt was expressionless as he received his sentence.
Following the judgement, he slumped low in the dock, speaking to his lawyers with his arm around his wife Delialle.
“I have nothing to say,” Hewitt told AFP in a low voice, clenching a tissue in his hand, after the court adjourned until Tuesday when the defence will seek leave to appeal.
Child abuse ‘rife’
Earlier Delaille Hewitt pleaded for the judge not to send her husband to jail.
“I have never had to beg before but I am asking you from the bottom of my heart to please let my husband return to the farm as I could not survive without him,” she said, sobbing with grief.
But the prosecution insisted that Hewitt’s crimes are serious enough to deserve jail time, even though he suffers from a heart condition.
“There was a huge public outcry, not just because of his status in society… but because child abuse being so rife in this country, this is not a new phenomenon,” said state prosecutor Carina Coetzee.
Outside the Pretoria courthouse, activists against abuse against children had hung posters on the gates that read “Child rape = life sentence.”
“We’re just trying to digest it,” said Suellen Sheehan, one of Hewitt’s victims who was in the courtroom for the sentencing.
Hewitt was born in Dubbo, Australia, but has spent much of his life in South Africa.
The former champion has also been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse in the United States where he once lived.
“It’s a victory for justice and women and children,” said National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Velekhaya Mgobhozi.
“It shows everyone is equal before the law.”