Guilty Rolf Harris destroyed by his dark side

VETERAN entertainer Rolf Harris saw his decades in the spotlight end in disgrace yesterday as he was found guilty of indecent assault.

Rolf Harris arrives at Southwark Crown Court. Picture: PA
Rolf Harris arrives at Southwark Crown Court. Picture: PA

The 84-year-old, once a much-loved artist and musician, was convicted at Southwark Crown Court yesterday of 12 sex charges involving four women.

Once seen by a UK audience as a national treasure, Harris had enjoyed years of success, netting him a multi-million pound fortune and the chance to paint the Queen.

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But the downfall of an entertainer who was part of millions of British childhoods came yesterday, as Harris became the biggest scalp claimed by detectives from high-profile sex crime investigation Operation Yewtree.

Dozens more alleged victims have come forward during the trial, including several in Australia, and Scotland Yard has been in touch with their counterparts in the Australian police, but it is not yet clear whether they are pursuing any investigation in Harris’s home country.

The NSPCC said it has received 28 calls relating to Harris to date, involving 13 people who claim they fell prey to the performer.

Harris remained impassive as the forewoman delivered the unanimous verdicts.

His daughter Bindi held hands with a supporter, and wife Alwen and niece Jenny also watched from the public gallery as his fate was sealed.

The performer was released on bail until Friday when he will be sentenced.

Mr Justice Sweeney warned the 84-year-old that, given the conviction on all 12 counts it was “inevitable” that a custodial sentence would be possible.

“He must understand that,” he said, to which Harris’s barrister Sonia Woodley replied: “He does appreciate that.”

Outside the courtroom, a tearful Bindi was seen walking with Alwen and Jenny, near where her father had been taken into a side room with his legal team.

During the trial, the court also heard from six other witnesses who claimed they had been groped by Harris, but were not part of the criminal charges.

The first claimed she was 11 or 12 when she was off sick from school at a family friend’s home in 1969, when Harris told her: “I want to be the first person to introduce you to a tongue kiss.”

He then allegedly got her in “a gentle hug” before sticking his tongue into her mouth.

A second, then aged 16 or 17, was waitressing at an event in New Zealand in 1970 when she claimed the entertainer put his hand on her bottom and between her legs.

She said: “I saw the dark side of a man who I thought could be trusted.”

The third supporting witness was aged 18 when she was on holiday in Malta in 1970 when her boyfriend cut his foot while swimming in the sea and Harris helped them to find a doctor.

She claimed that after she went back to thank the artist, he pinned her up against the wall in a back room in a bar, kissing and groping her.

Jurors also heard from a make-up artist who claimed Harris had groped her more than “two dozen” times in a single day while making a television programme in Australia in the mid-1980s.

The woman, then in her 20s, told the court that she later found out Harris’s nickname was “the octopus”.

A mother and daughter claimed that Harris targeted them both on the same day when they met him at a promotional event at a shop in Australia in 1991.

It was alleged that he first groped the 15-year-old daughter after insisting on giving her a hug, and then rubbed himself against her mother’s bottom as they had their photograph taken.

When the older woman challenged him, calling Harris “a disgusting creature”, he is claimed to have said: “She liked it,” referring to her daughter.

Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Mick Orchard said: “Rolf Harris has habitually denied any wrongdoing, 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.”

Jenny Hopkins, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS in London, said: “Rolf Harris used his status and position as a world-famous children’s entertainer to sexually assault young girls over a period spanning 18 years.

“The victims in this case have suffered in silence for many years and have only recently found the courage to come forward. I would like to pay tribute to the bravery they displayed in coming to court and giving evidence. That bravery and determination has seen Rolf Harris brought to justice and held to account.

“Each victim, unknown to the others, described a similar pattern of behaviour; that of a man acting without fear of the consequences.”

Harris walked slowly from the building yesterday, with an emotional Alwen and Bindi.

The family was flanked by three security guards as they faced a throng of international media.

Harris remained silent in the face of continuous questions, cutting a dejected and downbeat figure.

The group was ushered into a waiting Audi with blacked out windows, with photographers crowding around the car. Earlier, PR heavyweights Bell Pottinger said Harris would not be commenting on the verdicts.

Stripped of Bafta fellowship, and CBE could be next…

Rolf Harris will be stripped of the Bafta Fellowship he was awarded two years ago and could lose his CBE from the Queen after being found guilty of indecent assault.

A spokesman for the academy confirmed that the children’s entertainer’s honour will be removed in light of the conviction: “The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has made the decision to annul the Fellowship bestowed upon Rolf Harris in 2012 following his conviction.”.

While the Cabinet Office said it could not comment on individual cases, normal protocol sees Buckingham Palace honours forfeited when the person is considered to have brought the system into disrepute.

Such a decision must be approved by the Queen.

Harris was first honoured in the late 1960s with an MBE, followed by an OBE a decade later, and he was made a CBE, pictured, in 2006.

A year earlier the Queen sat for Harris while he painted a portrait, commissioned by the BBC for television programme The Queen by Rolf, to mark her 80th birthday.

In 2012 Harris took centre stage at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations outside the palace.

Daughter walked an emotional tightrope

During the trial, the jury heard extracts from an e-mail sent by Bindi Nicholls to her father Rolf Harris on 25 July, 2012, with the subject line “dad … a few questions”, which highlighted the at times tempestuous relationship between the shamed star and his daughter, one of whose friends was among his victims.

In it, she questions him about money, lashes out at his advisers, but also pledges her love.

“Hi dad, (this e-mail is between you and me, please don’t pass it on to accountants, Bruce etc…) I’ve been pretty churned up, as we all have been!

“Thank you so much for being so supportive etc… I really do love you guys with all my heart and couldn’t have chosen better parents. I wouldn’t change the past either, it’s all been perfect, because from that I’ve got to here, and I couldn’t feel more loved by you two!

“With my therapist I’ve been trying to work out why I always feel so confused by all the stuff around money etc… I think one thing is because you haven’t really made a decision about what YOU and mum want… in regard to me and money…

“In regards to me (your only child), I find it confusing that really I’m not that interested in money, I’m just living quite simply and wanting to do my art work and spend precious time with you guys and my family, these simple things make me very happy! (I am YOUR daughter after all, you understand that I know!)

“When you are gone we are all left with the aftermath of people fighting over stuff, I’m left with Bruce and Elaine (and you know how they feel about me!) and I’m alone with it all… Do you want to write letters to people you care about etc etc…do you want to give people things before you go? How do you want to be remembered?

“Please you don’t want people being left confused, angry, upset and fraught with sadness and grief… Please take this seriously or you are leaving ALL these decisions to Bruce and Elaine…

“Love Bindi and Craig xxx”