030911: BOB HEWITT

Own Correspondents and Sapa-AP

A Joburg businesswoman who claims coach Bob Hewitt raped her when she was his nine-year-old protégée says he does not deserve his place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Suellen Sheehan, now 43, said this week that it had taken her years to overcome feelings of shame, guilt and fear that she would not be believed. She and other accusers have come forward to ask the Hall of Fame to remove Bob Hewitt from its ranks.

The Hall, which is in Newport, Rhode Island, said on Tuesday that it had hired an attorney to investigate the allegations against Hewitt, an Australian-born former doubles champion who now lives in the Eastern Cape. The investigation could result in the first expulsion from the Hall.

A man who answered Hewitt’s cellphone on Wednesday said Hewitt was unavailable for comment.

Sheehan said it was difficult to speak out, but once she did, it helped her to heal.

“To say his name now is easy. A year ago, I couldn’t say it. I’ve actually forgiven him. Although he has to pay for what he did.”

Hewitt, now 72, played in the 1960s and 1970s, coached young players in SA in the 1980s, and was inducted into the Hall in 1992.

Sheehan said that at that time she was trying to block out memories of the abuse that started when she was nine and lasted until she was 14.

But last year, she and other women who say Hewitt abused them began speaking out about their outrage.

They had approached the Hall of Fame officials, but were told that no action would be taken because no criminal charges had been laid.

In December, Sheehan opened a rape case with the police. The spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

Twiggy Tolken, 44, a South African now living in New Zealand, claims Hewitt began abusing her when she was 12, and her family reported the abuse to the police when she was 13. Her parents later dropped the case because they did not want her to have to face Hewitt in court, she said.

Heather Conner, of West Newbury, Massachusetts is also being interviewed as part of the investigation.