Saturday 29 April 2017

Rolf Harris 'has propensity for indecently assaulting young females'

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

A blind, disabled woman and a 12-year-old girl were among those allegedly groped by Rolf Harris, who is on trial for another wave of sex charges spanning 30 years, a court heard.

The TV entertainer allegedly assaulted seven girls and women in a series of "brazen" assaults between 1971 and 2004, the jury at Southwark Crown Court was told.

The alleged incidents took place in public, and prosecutor Jonathan Rees asked jury members to consider whether it was the 86-year-old's celebrity status that had made him so audacious.

Comments often accompanied the unwanted caresses, the court heard, with Harris allegedly telling a 12-year-old girl "let's give you a little cuddle" before putting his hand up her skirt.

Some of the alleged victims were young fans eager to get a signed autograph from their Aussie hero, while another was a blind and disabled woman, the court heard.

The 27-year-old woman, described as "vulnerable" by the prosecutor, was allegedly groped by Harris at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London in 1970s. She was not at that time an in-patient.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of (left to right) defence lawyer Stephen Vullo, prosecutor Jonathan Rees and his supporting barrister (no name given) sitting in front of three empty chairs where Rolf Harris would have sat with dock officers - instead he can be seen appearing via video link (top left) - at Southwark Crown Court, London. Harris is accused of seven counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault.Photo: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of (left to right) defence lawyer Stephen Vullo, prosecutor Jonathan Rees and his supporting barrister (no name given) sitting in front of three empty chairs where Rolf Harris would have sat with dock officers - instead he can be seen appearing via video link (top left) - at Southwark Crown Court, London. Harris is accused of seven counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault.Photo: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

She 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.

Mr Rees told the jury: "She says he approached her and said 'Has anyone told you what a good-looking woman you are?'"

Harris declined a handshake, Mr Rees said, and instead "crouched down, kissed the back of her neck and ... began slobbering over her".

"She told him to get off, she says, but he put one hand down the back of her skirt while he placed the other under her bottom over the top of her skirt."

Despite telling him to stop, Harris continued to sexually assault the girl

She warned him she would prise his fingers off her and hurt him if he did not stop, and while bending his fingers back became aware of a wedding ring on his left hand, Mr Rees said.

He is also said to have pulled a 14-year-old girl on to his lap and put his hand up her skirt at a youth music event in London in 1971.

Mr Rees said the prosecution argues, despite Harris's assertion that he would not act in such a way, his previous convictions establish he has "a propensity for indecently assaulting young females".

Jurors were told Harris, who appeared by video-link, was serving a sentence at Stafford Prison for a series of offences of indecent assault carried out on four female victims.

He "continues to maintain his innocence" regarding these offences, the prosecutor said, and has pleaded not guilty to the seven fresh 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, Mr Rees said.

In December last year, Judge Alistair McCreath ruled the entertainer would not have to attend proceedings in person because of his age and health.

It also alleged that Harris grabbed a teenager who was helping on the TV programme Star Games in the summer of 1978, who thought he told her she was "a bit irresistible".

He is then said to have put his hand on her knee and slid it up her thigh over her jeans.

The teenager later told a family member Harris was a "dirty old man", when asked how her day had been, the jury heard.

Harris's niece and her husband were in court listening as the details of his alleged offences were read out.

Harris is alleged to have groped a 13-year-old girl after she attended a broadcast of children's television show Saturday Superstore at BBC Television Centre in White City, west London, in 1983.

Mr Rees said the girl recalled Harris quietly asking her: "Do you often get molested on a Saturday morning?"

The prosecutor said the words clearly indicated the sexual motive behind the touching.

He added: "We understand that, whilst the defendant accepts that he might have used a phrase similar to the one recalled by (the complainant) and repeated by her to various others, he contends that any such phrase used by him was wholly innocent and that (the complainant) has placed the phrase entirely out of its true context."

Another incident, in 2002, is alleged to have taken place at a music studio near London Bridge.

Harris is said to have stroked the lower back of an 18-year-old woman there, telling her: "If you were to join up the two dimples on a woman's back to your bum crack it would make the shape of a diamond; I think it's really sexy."

Two men who saw the alleged incident recalled Harris's behaviour, Mr Rees told the jury, "variously describing it as creepy, cringing and lecherous".

Mr Rees said the prosecution expects Harris will say he has "never used the word or phrase 'bum crack' and that no intentional sexual touching took place"

A then BBC employee has accused Harris of grabbing her breasts and thrusting his crotch against her at an event after the filming of a television show in 2004.

Mr Rees said the woman, aged 42 at the time, recalled "there were lots of people about but no-one reacted".

She said the pair did not say anything to each other but she "just gave him a look".

It is not clear if the alleged incident took place at a studio at the Shepherd's Bush television centre or at Fountain Studios in Wembley, the jury heard.

Harris was interviewed by the police on February 3 and 4 2015 at Stafford police station.

In a prepared statement at the end of the two days, he said: "A number of women accused me of indecent assault or sexual assault on dates a number of years ago.

"I do not know any of these people and have little recollection of the events and circumstances they say they attended and met me."

He went on: "I deny sexually or indecently assaulting any of the people set out in the disclosure provided to me."

In his closing remarks, Mr Rees said the truth was that "Mr Harris's appetite for sexually assaulting young girls and women" had led him to commit the alleged offences, telling the jurors they must make their own minds up if this was so.

The alleged incident at the youth music event left the young girl "shocked and frightened", the jury heard.

Giving evidence via video link the complainant told the court: "He grabbed me from the back, put his hands on my waist and sat me on his lap."

She added: "I felt that he had placed his hand where he shouldn't have, a private area."

Asked where Harris placed his hand she said "near the vagina", adding: "As close as it could get."

She said it all happened very quickly but left her "extremely shocked and frightened".

She then said she approached her parents who had travelled to the event with her and told her father Harris had touched her.

Asked if she told him where, she said: "Not to my dad. I don't think I needed to say more to my father."

She added: "My father went straight up to him and spoke to him. I don't know what he said."

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