Tuesday 26 September 2017

Blind, disabled woman 'felt utterly trapped' by 'octopus' Rolf Harris, court hears

One complainant compared him to an 'octopus' the court was told

Rolf Harris (PA)
Rolf Harris (PA)
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Rolf Harris appearing by video link at Southwark Crown Court in London. Photo: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

Jemma Crew

A blind, disabled woman has described how she felt "completely and utterly trapped" by Rolf Harris as he spread his hands over her body, a court heard.

Disabled since birth, she was totally blind and had to walk with a stick when she was allegedly groped by Harris at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London in 1977, Southwark Crown Court heard.

A subsequent accident has left her now unable to walk and in "intense pain" for around 18 hours a day, the court heard in a pre-recorded interview from July 2014.

The woman, who was not at the time an in-patient at the hospital, recalled hearing a door to the room she was in opening and recognising the voice of the TV star whom she was expecting to meet.

She remembered feeling hot air from Harris's nostrils and his beard tickling the back of her neck after he approached "from absolutely nowhere", and could tell he was getting excited as his breathing got heavier, the court heard.

She said: "I have never met anyone who could spread their hands across my body so quickly.

"They covered all my back really really fast and he got his hands going up both sides of my body and he was saying,'Well don't you like this then?' and I said 'no I don't like it'.

"'Nobody has ever touched me like this, get off'."

He then allegedly replied: "Well you can't see me."

She then said: "I know I can't see anybody but no-one comes up to me and grovels all over my body so back off", the court heard.

The complainant, who has two full-time carers, went on: "What annoyed me was that I just could not escape, and being blind I couldn't always tell where he was.

"I was completely and utterly trapped."

The alleged victim said she knew straight away it was Harris who had entered the room from his "unmistakable voice".

She said: "One (complainant) later described him as an octopus.

"I thought 'that's exactly what it felt like with his arms and fingers spread as far as he could spread them'.

"He completely covered me and I said to him 'If you go any lower then that's it, you are going to get a thump'."

Her voice breaking, she continued: "The way he took advantage over someone that was totally blind, virtually stuck in terms of mobility ... it's absolutely appalling. In my opinion it's as degrading as it gets.

"I felt absolutely invaded by this man," she added.

She went on: "No-one has ever behaved like that to me in my life and I want to say even my husband, at his most passionate times, never covered my body in a way that he has done.

"Rolf Harris doesn't ask permission he just grovels."

The alleged victim said she repeatedly asked Harris to stop touching her and at one point he replied: "Don't be like that, I'm only being friendly."

She then said she grabbed his fingers and bent them back in a bid to stop the entertainer squeezing her breasts.

She said he allegedly responded: "'That wasn't nice'.

"I said 'What do you mean that's not nice?'

"He said: 'I can't get to you now'."

Revealing she suffered problems with her body image she said: "I hate my body, I hate the pain I am in and hate the restrictions of my body, and when I met the man that I married he was such a wonderful man and accepted my limitations.

"But people like Harris who think they are being clever, like taking my glasses off because he wants to see my face ... how sick is that?"

Wearing a black suit and black and white tie Harris, who appeared by video-link, is serving a sentence at Stafford Prison for a series of offences of indecent assault carried out on four female victims.

He maintains his innocence, the prosecutor said, and has pleaded not guilty to a further seven counts of indecent assault and one alternative charge of sexual assault.

Each of the new alleged victims contacted the police or the NSPCC in the wake of the "widespread publicity" surrounding the first trial, prosecutor Jonathan Rees said.

As she was cross-examined from a wheelchair with her carer by her side, the witness said she did not know why she had not come forward sooner.

She spent a while with Harris in the room after the alleged assault, during which he spent a few moments teaching her how to play the didgeridoo he had brought with him.

Asked by Stephen Vullo, defending, why she had not come forward until the publicity surrounding the first trial emerged, she said: "I was just so amazed because Rolf Harris was somebody I had grown up with and we loved it. He was part of our culture and I used to love listening to him on the television.

"I truly don't know why I did not report it at the time," she added.

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