Ex-tennis star Bob Hewitt loses South Africa rape appeal

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Former tennis champion Bob Hewitt will be jailed in South Africa after losing an appeal on Thursday against a six-year sentence for raping young girls he coached decades ago.

Australia-born Hewitt, 76, was convicted last year of raping two girls aged 12 and 13 in the early 1980s, and of indecently assaulting a 17-year-old girl in 1994.

Supreme Court of Appeal judges said they had considered Hewitt's advanced age, but decided "it is not a bar to a sentence of imprisonment".

"The sentences fitted the criminal and the crime and fairly balanced the competing interests," the judges said.

A frail-looking Hewitt, who was often accompanied in court by his elderly wife, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The appeal court said the former champion, who runs a citrus farm in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, did not suffer from a terminal or incapacitating illness and leads a healthy life.

His lawyers had argued that the trial court had "overemphasised the seriousness of the offences" at the expense of Hewitt's personal circumstances.

They added that "he had only raped each of the rape complainants once and had not repeated the offences."

Hewitt won numerous Grand Slam doubles titles during his career in the 1960s and 1970s and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992.

His name was removed when the series of sexual abuse allegations came to light.

Born in Dubbo, Australia, Hewitt has spent much of his life in South Africa.

It was not immediately known when he would start his sentence.