Tuesday 20 March 2018

Rolf Harris trial: Friend tells court accuser confided in her about alleged abuse

Veteran Australian entertainer Rolf Harris
Veteran Australian entertainer Rolf Harris

A former school friend of one of Rolf Harris's alleged victims has told a court that she confided in her that he had "sexually abused her over many years" since she was 13 or 14.

The witness said she was "good friends" with the woman from the age of 14 and when they were both aged around 16 she told her that Harris was a "dirty old man" who would make her sit on his lap so he could "feel her up".

Harris, 84, listened from the dock at London's Southwark Crown Court where he is on trial for 12 charges of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986 - seven relating to the woman in question. The veteran entertainer denies all the charges.

During questioning from prosecutor Sasha Wass QC, the witness said she knew her friend spent time at Harris's home due to her friendship with his daughter, Bindi.

"He was very well known to everybody, I think," she told jurors. "He was a well-known and well-loved celebrity so he was very much well known to all of us."

But she said that during a conversation they had when they were both about 16, "she described him as a dirty old man".

"I don't know what led into the conversation," she added. "She described a little bit about what she meant.

"He used to get her to sit on his lap and then touch her up. She didn't go into any detail about what exactly that entailed but she said he used to feel her up."

Asked why she remembered their talk, the woman told jurors: "Because it was a shocking conversation because he's a well-known celebrity and is well loved by a lot of people and is one of those people that you wouldn't imagine in a million years... and I just remember feeling quite horrified on her behalf that this had happened.

The woman said she thought she told her own parents about what her friend had said but did not think it her place to do anything else.

She said she spoke to her friend on the phone about the matter many years later in 1996 when they were both around 30 or 31.

"She basically told me that Rolf Harris had been abusing her throughout her teenage years and beyond," she said.

"She said that Rolf Harris had sexually abused her over many years. She said she didn't want to go into details at the time over the phone. It was obviously quite distressing."

The woman, who told the court she was living in New Zealand at the time and so did not see her friend very regularly, said she knew she had alcohol problems at this point and recalled her saying she was 13 or 14 when the abuse started.

The woman told the court her friend did not want to go to police with her allegations against Harris.

"Obviously she wasn't in a good place to be able to deal with it and she just knew it would be a bit of a media circus and she just didn't want to deal with it," she said.

She described her friend as the "most caring person you could meet". "The drinking thing just seemed to give her confidence," she added.

The alleged victim's mother also gave evidence to the court, telling jurors that she recalled Harris coming to the family home to visit her daughter when she was a teenager.

She said that on one occasion she recalled him asking for the girl when she was aged about 14 or 15 and when she told him she was upstairs, he went up to see her for between half an hour and an hour.

Asked by Ms Wass what she thought was happening up there, the woman said: "It was something that you didn't think about really."

She said she did not come to know about the alleged abuse until her daughter was an adult and she confronted her about her heavy drinking.

The woman, who sat down in the witness box to give her evidence, told the court: "She told me she had been abused all her life, which made me very angry."

Explaining how the discussion started, she said: "I got very angry with her - with her drinking. I just said, 'You know, this is not on. This is ridiculous. You can't go on like this'.

"She got angry and then she said 'Oh, I've been abused all my life'."

The woman said she was "completely amazed" by what her daughter told her, although she would not say who the man was. She added: "But I would not budge until she told me. She then said, 'Rolf'."

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