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Wednesday 27 August 2014

Jekyll and Hyde Rolf hid dark side to abuse girls, court told

Padraic Flanagan London Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character whose "dark side" led him to groom young girls for sexual abuse, a court has heard.

Published 10/05/2014 | 02:30

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Artist and television personality Rolf Harris arrives with daughter Bindi Harris at Southwark Crown Court in London
The didgeridoo-playing entertainer is pictured with his painting to mark the Queen Elizabeth's 80th birthday in 2006. Picture: Michael Stephens

The 84-year-old artist and broadcaster escaped punishment for a string of alleged indecent assaults because his "mesmerising" fame made him believe he was untouchable, a jury at Southwark Crown Court in London was told.

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But a television make-up artist said his reputation for groping was so widespread and so notorious that he was known as "The Octopus" in TV circles in Australia.

The court heard how one of his victims, who was first allegedly assaulted at the age of 13, was groomed like "a young puppy who had been trained to obey".

The victim eventually began to consent to sexual activity with Harris as an adult because she had been "groomed like a pet", it was claimed.

Prosecutor Sasha Wass said Harris was "not merely a celebrity but a national popular figure" who has widespread appeal, especially as a children's entertainer.

She said of his alleged victims: "They were overawed at meeting Rolf Harris. Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable."

Harris faces a total of 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, all of which he denies.

Opening the case to a packed courtroom, Ms Wass said Harris was a regular fixture on television in the 1970s and his "glittering career" continued well into this millennium.

Talented

The prosecutor said Harris was "an immensely talented man" who excelled in art, music and children's entertainment.

She told jurors how he was commissioned to paint a picture of the queen in 2005 to commemorate her 80th birthday and was made a CBE the following year.

Ms Wass said it was Harris's fame that meant nobody suspected him or challenged his behaviour and he was able to carry out "brazen" sexual assaults, often when other people were present or nearby.

She went on: "The prosecution does not, for a minute, suggest that there is not a good, talented and kind side to Mr Harris.

"But concealed behind this charming and amicable children's entertainer lay a man who exploited the very children who were drawn to him."

She said: "This dark side of Rolf Harris was obviously not apparent to all of the other people he met during the course of his work, and it was not apparent to those who may want to testify to his good character."

She said it was "a side of him which is sexually attracted to children and under-age girls" and "a side which gave him the confidence to molest girls knowing that they could not object and, even if they did, nobody would believe them."

Harris, sitting in the dock wearing a grey suit, white shirt and multi-coloured tie, listened to the proceedings through a hearing loop as the prosecution case was outlined.

Harris's wife, Alwen, and other members of his family sat listening in the public gallery alongside dozens of journalists in the packed courtroom.

Ms Wass told the court that eight alleged victims would give evidence, four of whom are the subject of indictment, and the others supporting witnesses.

"The chances of so many people making up similar false allegations are just ludicrous," Ms Wass said.

She went on to outline allegations made by one of the victims, who claims she was first assaulted at the age of 13 when Harris was on a family holiday to Canada, Hawaii and Australia.

The alleged victim, a childhood friend of Harris's daughter Bindi, is the subject of seven of the 12 counts that Harris faces.

Harris admits having a consensual affair with the woman, and wrote a letter to her father expressing his regret.

In a letter, thought to have been sent in March 1997, the artist confessed to having a sexual relationship with the woman, but said it had stemmed from "love and friendship" and denied it started when she was 13.

In the letter, he described being in a state of "self-loathing" and feeling "sickened" by himself for the misery he had caused her.

Ms Wass said: "It was a confess and avoid letter. By that I mean that Mr Harris admits that he had a sexual relationship with (the woman), but without admitting that it had taken place when she was under-age."

The prosecutor said jurors would see a pattern of Harris approaching girls in a "purely friendly way", then taking advantage of the situation to indecently assault them.

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

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