herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Harris guilty

Dark side: Entertainer puts on performance of his life but is still convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault

AFTER 60 years in showbusiness Rolf Harris is no stranger to the limelight, but his trial for a string of alleged indecent assaults proved to be the performance of his lifetime.

A jury found broadcaster and entertainer Rolf Harris guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault.

The 84-year-old celebrity was convicted of indecent assault on four victims aged 19 or under between 1968 and 1986.

Prosecutors said that for years he got away with brazen sexual assaults on young girls because his fame made him untouchable.

He was described as having a good and generous side offset by a dark side that allowed him to molest young girls knowing they could not object and would not be believed if they did.

He had denied the charges and during the trial enjoyed the support of his wife and daughter, even though he was accused of repeatedly abusing one of his daughter's friends.

But during each day of the trial he walked slowly into court with relatives including his daughter Bindi, wife Alwen and niece Jenny.

Family members flanked him and offered staunch support from the public gallery, along with two beefy security guards waiting outside the courtroom ready to protect the 84-year-old, and representatives from PR heavyweights Bell Pottinger who attended every day of the trial.

COLLECTED

An eagle-eyed Australian journalist soon spotted that Harris and his family travelled separately to court each day, gathering nearby to be collected in a car and brought in together in a show of unity, the veteran entertainer surrounded by women.

The packed courtroom was filled with British media and their Australian counterparts, who brought a markedly more down-to-earth approach to the business of court reporting, as well as a steady flow of members of the public keen to catch a glimpse of the latest high-profile trial to grace Southwark Crown Court.

Moments of levity were fleeting and rare, the daily drudgery of queuing for a seat in the courtroom followed by the grind of a depressing slew of evidence against a performer once regarded by a UK audience as a national treasure.

His supporters were packed in uncomfortably close proximity to the press due to acoustic problems in the courtroom.

One could be heard snorting with derision as an alleged victim, who claimed Harris groped her when she was seven or eight, broke down in tears during her evidence.

For the most part Alwen looked as if she was in a world of her own as the evidence against her husband unfolded, including details of two affairs.

Sitting in the glass-walled dock, Harris appeared to show his age as he used a hearing loop to listen to proceedings.

But what appeared to be concentration on the string of allegations levelled at him was perhaps concentration on something else, as it twice emerged the veteran entertainer was making sketches in court. He was later warned that it was illegal.

As Harris took to the witness box, he at first appeared every bit the TV star, regaling jurors with tales of his rise to stardom, taking them through the highlights of his 60-year career, including a rendition of Jake the Peg.

HEATER

He also described the sound of a didgeridoo and gave an animated account of his creation of the "wobble board", telling how its invention was an accident as he was trying to dry a piece of hardboard that he had painted and covered in turpentine, using an oil heater.

For the jury of six men and six women, many appeared enthralled by the star, listening intently as he broke off into anecdotes, occasionally raising a laugh with jokey asides.

But the gags ended as Harris was forced to confront the serious allega tions against him, and rake over his affairs with his daughter's then-best friend, as well as a second woman who lived in an outbuilding called The Bindi House at his home.

The star was forced to concede that his arrival at court was a "show of support" for the cameras, as he was grilled on the family's daily processions.

Harris' daughter Bindi's appearance in the witness box appeared to be an emotional rollercoaster and was equally riveting.

The 50-year-old artist laughed as she fondly recounted her friendship with one of Harris's alleged victims, describing how they were "bestest" friends, but broke down as she recalled the bombshell news of the affair.

Any media hopes for a string of celebrity character witnesses were dashed, with a series of low-key backers being called, including children of family friends and a builder who had worked for the Harrises for more than two decades.

Former Generation Game glamour puss Rosemarie Ford, who is married to actor Robert Lindsay; self-confessed "King of Panto" Paul Elliott; veteran choreographer Dougie Squires and broadcaster Sue Cook, all did their bit to reassure the jury that Harris had never put a foot wrong, but the defence came to an anticlimactic 
end.

The Harris trial proved a wearing and depressing experience for all concerned, the uncomfortable dissection of a former childhood favourite.

Speaking outside court, DCI Mick Orchard, said: "Rolf Harris has habitually denied any wrong doing forcing his victims to recount their ordeal in public.

"He committed many offences in plain sight of people as he thought his celebrity status placed him above the law. I want to thank the women who came forward for their bravery, I hope today's guilty verdict will give them closure and help them to begin to move on with their lives."

hnews@herald.ie

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