South Africa 12.2.2015 05:00 pm

Hewitt regrets replying to love letters

FILE PICTURE: Former grand slam tennis champion Bob Hewitt is seen at the Palm Ridge Magistrate's Court where he is standing trial on two charges of rape and one of sexual assault, Monday, 9 February 2015. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

FILE PICTURE: Former grand slam tennis champion Bob Hewitt is seen at the Palm Ridge Magistrate's Court where he is standing trial on two charges of rape and one of sexual assault, Monday, 9 February 2015. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Rape and sexual assault accused Bob Hewitt on Thursday had a hard time explaining the “puppy love” relationship he had with one of his tennis students, Theresa “Twiggy” Tolken.

Letters the former tennis champion wrote to Tolken over 30 years ago were the subject of scrutiny as he faced a grilling during cross-examination in the High Court in Johannesburg, sitting in Palm Ridge.

In them, Hewitt referred to her as “my love”. He ended them off with signs for kisses and the words “I love you”.

Cross-examining Hewitt, prosecutor Carina Coetzee asked him whether this was an appropriate manner for a then 41-year-old man to write to a 12-year-old.

Hewitt said he was simply responding to letters Tolken had written to him.

“Did you encourage her love?” Coetzee asked.

Hewitt said he simply thought it was “puppy love”.

“I thought of it as being innocent. In hindsight, I should have never written those letters,” he said.

Trying to get answers from Hewitt, Judge Bert Bam said he failed to understand the relationship that Hewitt, now 75, could have had with a minor.

“I was not in love with her,” he said, explaining that those were the kinds of feelings he reserved for his wife.

“I made a mistake [in writing the letters] and I apologise for it.”

Hewitt is on trial for the alleged rape and sexual assault of Tolken and two other women, all of whom he coached in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tolken on Monday testified that Hewitt had touched her inappropriately and forced her to perform oral sex on him 34 years ago, when she was 12.

She also said Hewitt made her take off her panties and told her to lie on top of him in the bath. She claimed he tried to put his penis in her.

Tolken later reported the alleged incident to her mother.

The court heard that a case was opened the following day, but was not pursued for various reasons.

These included the fact that the case was not opened in the area where the rape — or attempted rape as it was defined in law at the time –allegedly happened and concerns about how she would be treated in court.

Another of Hewitt’s alleged victims was Suellen Sheehan, who testified that Hewitt raped her in 1982 in his car before tennis practice. She was 12 years old.

A third alleged victim who cannot be named testified Hewitt rubbed himself against her back in an inappropriate manner during their private tennis lessons.

On Thursday, Coetzee asked that Hewitt explain what puppy love meant to him.

“Puppy love is a young person in love with another person.”

Coetzee then referred Hewitt to a letter in which he told Tolken he had the “same feelings for her”.

Sections of three letters written by Hewitt to Tolken were at the centre of Coetzee’s arguments.

In one letter, Hewitt reportedly wrote: “I’ve also got a desire to see you.”

According to Hewitt, there was nothing sinister about this as he was always excited to see his students.

He, however, admitted that he never wrote letters to anyone else but Tolken.

“They were in reply to her letters to me,” said Hewitt, adding that he could no longer recall the contents of any of the three letters he received.

He no longer had the letters as he handed them police after Tolken opened a case against him in 1981.

The Australian-born Hewitt has pleaded not guilty to all three charges he faces.

 

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