By Shaun Gillham
A WOMAN who claims to have been molested as a child while being coached by tennis legend Bob Hewitt is pinning her hopes for justice on a South African police investigation which she says has produced little since it was launched nearly seven months ago.
This follows a report published in America this week that the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF), into which the 72-year-old tennis celebrity had been inducted, has halted an investigation into Hewitt’s off-court conduct.
A resident of the Eastern Cape town of Addo, Hewitt has been accused of sexually abusing young female tennis students in South Africa and in the US during his heyday as a renowned doubles and singles player and coach between the 1970s and early 1990s.
Suellen Sheehan, who was the first person to lay charges against Hewitt, told Weekend Post she was “disgusted and furious” to learn the ITHF investigation had been halted.
“Originally they would do nothing because despite the growing evidence against him no formal charges had been laid. Now that charges have been laid and the SA police are supposed to be investigating, they [the ITHF] stop the investigation. This is unbelievable,” said Sheehan, who vowed to step up the campaign to bring Hewitt to book.
Sheehan said members of the ITHF had visited South Africa, but failed to secure an interview with Hewitt and apparently only spoke to his legal representative.
Boston Globe journalist Bob Hohler, who has covered the case and last year visited Addo to investigate the claims, wrote in the publication on Monday that, nine months after the hall said it would investigate the allegations, “it turns out there is no inquiry”. “Executive director Mark Stenning told the Globe the hall scrapped the investigation in favour of drafting a policy to address similar issues. He said the board will consider the proposal… in July,” Hohler reported.
Sheehan, who claims she was abused by the coach when she was 12, said police had done little since she laid the complaint against Hewitt.
Weekend Post could not establish the progress of the investigation through either the police or Pieter van Niekerk, an attorney acting for the South African group of alleged victims.
But Germaine Vogel, spokeswoman of lobby group Women and Men Against Child Abuse, which is close to the investigation, said: “I can’t reveal too much but confirm progress is being made. We have been silenced by the National Prosecuting Authority due to sensitivities around the case.”
Hewitt could not be reached for comment.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday, May 26, 2012.