Tuesday 24 October 2017

Storm over sentence as sex abuser Harris could be free in three years

Calls for 'lenient' jail term to be increased

Rolf Harris arrives for sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London yesterday.Photo: Reuters
Rolf Harris arrives for sentencing at Southwark Crown Court in London yesterday.Photo: Reuters

Martin Evans

ROLF Harris could walk free from prison in less than three years after he was sentenced for sexually assaulting girls as young as eight, a judge ruled yesterday.

The sentence was criticised for its leniency and the UK's Attorney General is considering whether to increase it.

It was immediately referred to the UK's Attorney General for being "unduly lenient" after complaints from several members of the public.

There was mounting anger from child protection campaigners last night after the 84-year-old was jailed for five years and nine months for a number of child-sex offences.

Mr Justice Sweeney, the judge who presided over his trial in London, told Harris that his reputation lay in ruins. He added: "You only have yourself to blame."

Harris was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls, the youngest of whom was eight years old at the time.

But before his cell door had slammed shut there was already a row under way over the leniency of his sentence, with legal experts and child protection campaigners demanding his prison term be increased.

The Attorney General has 28 days to decide whether further action should be taken.

Fay Maxted, the chief executive of the Survivors Trust, a sexual abuse charity, said: "For a man who abused his position of trust, used his celebrity status as a shield, and who has shown no remorse for his actions, the sentence is not enough."


But under the complex sentencing framework there was little flexibility open to the judge to hand down a longer term.

Because Harris carried out his crimes between 1969 and 1986, his sentence had to be in line with the more lenient law that was in place at that time.

Had he carried out the offences today, the maximum sentence available to the judge would have been much higher.

With good behaviour, Harris could leave prison in less than three years.

Yesterday, Harris's victims gave emotional impact statements to the court in which they outlined the devastating effect of his crimes.

One woman, who had been best friends with Harris's daughter, Bindi, described how he had groomed her and used her like "his little toy", leaving her a quivering wreck who became an alcoholic while still a teenager.

Another victim, Tonya Lee, who was a 15-year-old aspiring actress when Harris touched her in a London pub, described how the attack had robbed her of the ability to feel safe again.

The woman who was attacked as an eight-year-old said that the assault had ruined her childhood, leaving her unable to express herself or put trust in men. She added: "On that day and in the space of a few minutes my childhood innocence was gone."

Harris, who earlier travelled from his home in Bray, Berkshire, by boat, sat in the glass-walled dock at Southwark Crown Court with a striped suitcase by his side. He was impassive as the sentence was passed, with his daughter watching from the public gallery. His frail wife, Alwen, did not attend, despite having been in court for much of the eight-week trial.

The judge told Harris: "For well over 50 years you have been a popular entertainer and television personality of international standing – with a speciality in children's entertainment. You are also an artist of renown.

"You have been the recipient of a number of honours and awards over the years. You have done many good and charitable works and numerous people have attested to your positive good character. But the verdicts of the jury show that in the period from 1969 to 1986 you were also a sex offender, committing 12 offences of indecent assault on four victims who were variously aged between eight and 19 at the time."

He went on: "You took advantage of the trust placed in you, because of your celebrity status, to commit the offences against three of your victims.

"You clearly got a thrill from committing the offences whilst others were present or nearby."

The judge added: "You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all. Your reputation now lies in ruins, you have been stripped of your honours but you have no one to blame but yourself."

Since the trial began, scores of other potential victims have come forward, raising the prospect of further charges in the future. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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