030911: BOB HEWITT

The International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, has hired an attorney to investigate allegations that 1992 inductee Bob Hewitt sexually abused girls he coached, an inquiry that could result in his expulsion or suspension from the Hall.

The Hall of Fame’s chief executive officer, Mark Stenning, said yesterday that a lawyer with the Boston firm Hinckley Allen Snyder was interviewing people who said they were abused by South African star Hewitt, who won nine doubles and six mixed doubles titles at Grand Slams in the 1960s and 1970s.

The lawyer, Michael Connolly, will prepare a report for the Hall’s 24-member executive committee to help determine whether it should seek to expel or suspend the 72-year-old Hewitt or take no action, Stenning said.

No one has ever been expelled or suspended from the Hall. Stenning said its bylaws were changed in April to allow for it, but he declined to go into the details about how that would happen.

Among those recently interviewed as part of the Hall’s inquiry was Heather Conner of Massachusetts. She said she was sexually abused by Hewitt starting at age 15, when she claimed he forced her to have sex with him near a high school in Massachusetts.

This morning, Durban accuser Amanda Wienhold said the Hall of Fame had not contacted her.

“I will not speak about the other ladies but I will speak for myself. Maybe they have been contacted, but I have not heard a word from the Hall of Fame,” she said.

The allegations from Hewitt’s former young tennis players first surfaced last year after the Boston Globe carried Conner’s claims.

The Globe carried out a six-month investigation into the allegations, unearthing similar stories, with four South African women – Suellen Sheehan, Gina Read, and Wienhold – who live in South Africa – and Twiggy Tolken, 43, who lives in New Zealand, coming forward with experiences similar to Conner’s.

The allegations range over a 20-year period and the women did not know one another before the story broke.

The Globe reported nine women came forward, but some were not willing to go public.

Conner is critical of the Hall for not taking action sooner and said she wanted to see Hewitt expelled.

The Hall of Fame’s former president, Tony Trabert, initially promised an inquiry last year, but Stenning told The Boston Globe in May that none was being conducted.

Stenning said yesterday that had changed. The Hall should have taken steps to investigate more quickly but was now “doing the right thing”, he said.

Stenning said the statute of limitations for criminal charges in the US had expired but it did not apply in South Africa.

He said he did not know how many women Connolly was interviewing. He said Connolly’s report could be presented to the Hall’s executive committee this month.

Connolly declined to offer any specifics about his inquiry.

Hewitt lives in Addo in the Eastern Cape with his wife, Delaille.

In spite of repeated attempts by the media for comment since the story broke, Hewitt has not responded to the allegations, except in a Weekend Post story which quoted him in September as saying, “I only want to apologise if I offended anyone in any way.”

Tolken says she has kept letters Hewitt allegedly wrote to her when she was only 12 years old, while Sheehan reported in June last year that she had received a threatening call after laying a rape charge against Hewitt at Honeydew police station in Johannesburg in December.

Women who have spoken out claimed Hewitt led a secret life over two decades and described him as a manipulative predator, who enjoyed his power over his young charges and had no qualms about intimidating them or cornering them alone.

In December, Ray Moore, another former South African tennis star who was on the Davis Cup tennis team with Hewitt, told The Independent on Saturday he had talked to tennis authorities at that time about taking action regarding rumours circulating about Hewitt and his young female players, but was told nothing could be done unless someone laid charges.

Charges were first laid against Hewitt more than 30 years ago when Tolken was 12 years old – her father registered charges at the Bedfordview police station, when she said Hewitt had allegedly forced her to perform a sexual act.

The charges were withdrawn, but those in the tightly knit tennis community at that time said Hewitt’s behaviour with underage girls was an “open secret”.

About 10 years later, Wienhold’s parents also tried to lay charges of sexual harassment.

“Our lawyer said it would be my word against a very famous tennis player and I would have to give evidence in court, which would be a room full of men.

“In tennis circles he was famous and the final straw was when he caught me alone at the next tournament and said, ‘You may have won the battle, but you will never win the war’.

“I was terrified and told my parents I could not go forward with charges,” Wienhold said.

In January, two more women, Ros Dalrymple and Dina Hall, former South Africans now living in the US, made statements about sexual harassment.

Hall said that in 1989 Hewitt invited her to play in the US and she became “star-struck”.

“But the conversation quickly turned sour when he began talking about sex.”

Dalrymple said she was 16 when she took lessons with Hewitt in 1979.

“He would try to see how far he could push the sex talk.” – Daily News Reporter, Independent on Saturday and Cape Times