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Wednesday 30 July 2014

Rolf Harris gave performance of his life during trial

Margaret Davis and Ellen Branagh

Published 30/06/2014|15:29

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Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris at Southwark Crown Court, London, where he denies 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 30, 2014. See PA story COURTS Harris. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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.

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Walking into court slowly each day with relatives including his daughter Bindi, wife Alwen and niece Jenny, the veteran entertainer surrounded himself with an entourage to rival any of his Operation Yewtree predecessors.

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.

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, who attended much of the trial, 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.

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 allegations 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 Bray home.

Challenges by prosecutor Sasha Wass QC over his daughter prompted an outraged reaction from his supporters in the public gallery, with one muttering: "This is disgraceful."

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

Harris's 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.

As Bindi came under scrutiny by Ms Wass, the pair resorted to somewhat heated exchanges, on one occasion prompting Mr Justice Sweeney to intervene, saying: "Ladies, please."

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.

Press Association

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