30 Jun 2014

Rolf Harris guilty on 12 counts of indecent assault

Communities Editor

TV personality Rolf Harris, found guilty on 12 charges of indecent assault against four girls, tried to charm the court during his trial. But the prosecution said a demon lurked beneath that charm.

The Australia-born entertainer had been charged with 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.

He was arrested in March 2013 as part of the Operation Yewtree investigation, which was triggered by revelations that the late BBC TV host Jimmy Savile was a prolific child sex abuser.

During Harris’s trial at London’s Southwark crown court, which opened on 9 May, prosecutors claimed that the entertainer was a “Jekyll and Hyde” character who had a dark side to his personality and used his fame to abuse underage girls.

But his defence team told the jury that Harris’s reputation had been “trashed” by a prosecution that did not reach the standard of criminal proof.

Rolf Harris: 'Demon lurking beneath the charming exterior'

Show of support

During the three-month trial, Harris’s wife and daughter had made a show of supporting him, and were photographed arriving with him every morning, writes Darshna Soni.

His daughter, Bindi, had given evidence as a defence witness, telling the court of her shock when it emerged that one of her father’s accusers was her own friend.

The woman, who cannot be named, was one of four who alleged that the artist had sexually assaulted her between 1968 and 1986.

Some of the most disturbing allegations took place at Harris’s riverside home in the picturesque village of Bray in Berkshire. The court heard that Bindi’s friend would often stay over and that the two girls would share a bedroom. The victim alleged that Harris came into the room at night and assaulted her as his daughter slept. “He didn’t feel inhibited. I think he got a thrill out of it,” the witness told the court.

Rolf Harris victim says she considered suicide
Court jester

Rolf Harris was best known for his catchphrase "Can you tell what it is yet?" which he famously used to reveal his drawings. With his friendly smile, he entertained generations of children. His charm was certainly in evidence throughout his trial at Southwark crown court. He would often smile for the cameras and inside court would always nod to reporters as we followed him into court number two.

He never once lost his temper in the witness box, even when he was denying the most disturbing allegations of abuse. He would laugh and joke with the jury. At one point he even started singing for them, giving them a rendition of his hit song Jake the Peg. He also demonstrated the sounds of his famous wobble board.

But, according to the prosecution, a demon lurked beneath that charm and today the jury found him guilty. As the prosecution said: "You certainly can't sing your way out of a criminal charge."

‘Targeted and groomed’

The woman, who is now 49, claimed that the abuse began on a holiday in Hawaii when she was just 13 and lasted for nearly 20 years, transforming her from a happy girl into a binge-drinking young woman. “She was targeted, groomed and dehumanised by the star… a famous star who thought he was untouchable,” said the prosecution.

Harris had tried to claim that the relationship was consensual and that it hadn’t started until she was 18. But the prosecution used evidence from 10 other women to prove a pattern of behaviour.

It became clear during the trial that there are two sides to Rolf Harris. Peter Watt, NSPCC

“It became clear during the trial that there are two sides to Rolf Harris,” Peter Watt from the NSPCC told Channel 4 News. “The side that many of us were brought up with and will remember from our childhoods, the Rolf Harris who we all loved, who presented programmes about painting and fluffy animals.

“But there was also a dark side. Harris was a classic abuser whose power came from his fame and status, and he used this to manipulate and abuse vulnerable girls.”

National treasure

During the trial, the jury were reminded just how wide that fame stretched. Harris has enjoyed the status of national treasure, and is fondly remembered by many for programmes such as Paint with Rolf and Animal Hospital. Widely talented, he is also known singing classics such as Sun Arise and for introducing the UK to the sounds of wacky instruments from his native Australia, including the didgeridoo.

He has earned many accolades including a CBE. He was even commissioned to a paint a portrait of the Queen in 2006 for her 80th birthday and is seen in television footage laughing and joking with her.

Away from the cameras, Harris has been found to be a sinister abuser who took advantage of his powerful position.

But away from the cameras, Harris has been found to be a sinister abuser who took advantage of his powerful position.

During the trial, the jury also heard from several other women who claimed they too had been abused when the star was touring overseas. They included a mother and daughter who both claimed Harris had touched them inappropriately in a paint shop in New Zealand in 1991.

These other women gave bad character references against Harris to the court, but he was not charged over these incidents because until 1997 a person could not be prosecuted in this country for sexual offences which were committed outside the UK.