Convicted rapist denies historic sexual abuse of children at Norfolk centre, court hears

Joseph Douglas Hewitt in 1995. Photo: Archant Library

Joseph Douglas Hewitt in 1995. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

A convicted rapist has told a jury he 'still proclaims his innocence' relating to sexual abuse of children in the 1970s and 80s.

Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives.

Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre in March 1974. Picture: Archant archives. - Credit: Archant

Joseph Douglas Hewitt was officer in charge of the Woodlands Observation and Assessment Centre, off Dereham Road.

Up to 25 children at a time, aged between eight and 16, would be sent there for assessment before being fostered or moved to another children's home.

In 1995, Hewitt was convicted of six counts of rape and sexual assault involving five girls at the home, committed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The 79-year-old is now standing trial at King's Lynn Crown Court, having denied allegations from five fresh alleged victims - three men and two women - who had been children at the home between 1978 and 1983.

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Hewitt began his evidence this morning, and told the jury "I still proclaim my innocence" over the 1995 conviction.

He said he joined Woodlands in March 1974 when it reopened after it was "massively redeveloped".

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"There was a gardener I inherited but I was the first member of staff there," he said.

At first Hewitt lived in a three-bed flat at Woodlands with his wife and two children.

But by 1976 he said "regulations changed".

"Instead of being required to sleep on the premises which was part of our conditions of service, they realised that wasn't always healthy for families and we were given the opportunity to live outside," he said.

Hewitt moved to a house in Norwich but by early 1977 his marriage had "run into difficulties" and he moved back to Woodlands, he told the jury.

He said his local authority manager then offered him a chalet bungalow 10 miles away in which to live rent free.

Around that time he struck up a relationship with another member of staff at the care home.

"At that period in time I became good friends and developed a stronger relationship with Sue Boon, who was one of my staff," he said.

In 1978 the pair moved in together and had married by the next year after Hewitt asked her to offer her resignation.

They remained married until 2002, when Hewitt left prison.

Tania Griffiths, defending Hewitt, has suggested the five alleged victims have conspired to secure compensation for sexual abuse.

One of the complainants, now in their 40s, told the court today that "money is irrelevant in this case".

She accused Hewitt of raping her seven or eight times while she was in the care of Woodlands, said she was scared of him and described him as a "nasty piece of work".

"This was not my choice," she told the court. "The police came to me. I can't stress that enough."

Hewitt, of Snelsmoor Lane, Chellaston, Derby, has denied two counts of rape, three of a serious sexual offence, two of indecent assault and two of gross indecency.

The trial, expected to last five weeks, continues. The jury were told of the previous convictions.

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