I fled out of fear, says prof in TV sex sting
By Beverley Brommert and Helen Bamford
Former University of Cape Town College of Music associate professor Graham Fitch has spoken out about the accusations, made on television, that he had sex with under-age boys.
The British-born pianist was accused on camera on SABC3's Special Assignment of having sex with under-age boys.
Child rights activist Linda Ambor, in whom the boys confided, said on the programme she had reported Fitch three times to the authorities.
After the programme was aired in June, Fitch's lawyer said they would be taking legal action against the SABC. But Cape Town journalist Hazel Friedman, who made the expose, said this has not yet happened.
On July 15, Special Assignment did a follow-up broadcast in which it was claimed Fitch confessed to colleagues he was a crack addict and had used male prostitutes. They urged him to go into rehabilitation.
As associate professor at UCT, Fitch gave recitals to considerable acclaim, which earned him an international reputation. His main contribution to the department was to mentor and train budding keyboard performers.
He recalls the allegations of criminality started with an apparently innocuous phone call from "Debbie Green", who claimed to belong to the Pasella team.
She asked to interview Fitch on trends in musical education at tertiary level.
"I agreed, and a rendezvous was arranged at the SA College of Music," says Fitch.
"I duly arrived, then received a call to the effect that I should rather go to the Baxter Theatre for some coffee while we waited for the cameraman.
"Ms Green, who turned out to be Friedman of Special Assignment, introduced me to a friend who was to join us.
"This 'friend' was Linda Ambor, who is involved with a charity for street-people. After quite some time Debbie Green, alias Hazel Friedman, returned to say there was a problem with the interview as I was under investigation for sex with minors."
His immediate reaction was: "There must be some mistake, you've got the wrong person."
Ambor opened a file, asking if he "knew this person".
"At that point I simply left. And on my way to my car, two young men followed me. I began to run in panic - I thought they were going to attack me.
"As I was running, I was filmed without my knowledge by a cameraman who was out of sight. That, apparently, was all the proof of so-called guilt that was needed - I was supposed to defend myself when the folder was brought out, and instead I took to my heels. That is what was subsequently shown on TV. I feel my departure under the circumstances was a normal reaction."
Friedman says confronting Fitch on camera was not an easy decision.
"I do not relish arranging interviews under a pretext, but had we approached him directly, he would have refused to talk to us."
She said Special Assignment began investigating Fitch in 2006, after several children confided in Ambor.
"After seeing him repeatedly picking up street kids, a Central City Improvement District security employee independently traced his car registration to UCT.
The police contacted the university in June 2007, and was told not to take action because 'an arrest was imminent'.
"Special Assignment had delayed exposing him since 2006 because I did not want to compromise the police investigation.
"I have been in contact with the investigating officers throughout and it was only when I became fearful the assaults were escalating that I took the decision to expose him," Friedman said.
She said she stood by her story, as she had witnessed Fitch picking up street kids, something she would be prepared to testify to in court.
Friedman said she confronted Fitch 10 days before the expose was broadcast.
"But, despite my repeated messages, he did not return my calls. It was only the afternoon before the programme was due to be broadcast on June 3 that his lawyers contacted us and threatened to sue. By then, unbeknown to us, he had already left the country a week before broadcast."
In explanation of why the television team approached him in the first place, Fitch goes back to last year, when he handed his computer in for repair to remove some viruses.
"I gave it in to a shop in Claremont and it was returned the next day. That was when thunderous knocking at my door brought Scorpions into my house, accusing me of child pornography. There was an extensive search. DVDs, CDs, my camera and my computer were removed.
"But the chief inspector in person apologetically returned all my goods."
After the scandal, Fitch resigned from the College of Music and joined his family in England before going to teach and perform in New York.
"My departure may have looked like guilty flight, but it was nothing of the sort," he says.
"Feelings run high where abused children are concerned, and I was really in fear for my life. I didn't feel safe in Cape Town, and left accordingly.
"I was never in hiding from the police, and I made myself available to the investigating authorities as well as to UCT. I was at liberty to travel to and from South Africa, which proves there were no grounds for genuine suspicion. The case was referred to the Sexual Offences Court's senior prosecutor, who declined to prosecute me on any charges.
"Investigations have taken place at the highest level, and the police are satisfied there is no reason to arrest me. I have no criminal record. I resigned my post at UCT, as I could not imagine ever leading a normal life in Cape Town again."
At the time UCT said it had intended to convene a committee of inquiry to investigate and test the allegations, but Fitch had resigned first.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Andre Traut said the court withdrew the case due to lack of evidence.
He said the victims' identities were unknown, and they could not be traced to provide evidence.
But Friedman maintains Fitch has not been exonerated.
"The prosecutor has explained to the investigating officer she is not proceeding 'for now' for the simple reason it has been very difficult to round up the victims to interview them."
Friedman said the prosecutor had wanted the children re-interviewed, but Ambor had been away and the children did not trust anyone else.
She said the police had told her the investigation was not closed.
"The fact that the prosecutor has not proceeded does not exonerate Fitch."