A woman who claims she was driven to alcoholism by years of sexual abuse by the entertainer Rolf Harris went to police after bursting into tears when he appeared on television at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert, a jury heard on Monday.
The woman, who is now in her forties, told Southwark Crown Court that she’d had enough after the 84-year-old entertainer kept “invading” her home via the television nearly 20 years after the abuse ended.
She said the showbusiness veteran – whose behaviour she described as “creepy” and “cringey” – had sexually abused her from the age of 13, including in his daughter’s own bedroom while she lay in bed just feet away.
He rarely spoke when he molested the woman – sometimes in her family home – and acted jovially with others as if nothing had ever happened, she told the court. The woman said that the abuse led to panic attacks and terror that was only quelled by drinking “shedloads” of gin secretly in her bedroom as she prepared for visits from Mr Harris after the alleged abuse started in the late 1970s.
She said that it went on for 15 years – first when she joined her friend, the entertainer’s daughter, Bindi, on a Harris family holiday without her family for the first time. She said it ended when she was in her late twenties after she moved home in the 1990s, but she only came forward in 2012 after the Jubilee concert.
“I thought, ‘Can’t I get away from this bloody man’, and I just burst out crying,” said the woman, who gave evidence behind a screen that shielded her from Mr Harris and the public gallery. “He had been on the telly quite a lot, invading my home every time I switched the telly on. That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to have any more of it.”
Asked why she had not come forward before, she said that she was “too drunk, too angry” and was not strong enough. “I was just so scared of him,” she said. “He was such a big man on the telly. Nobody would believe me anyway. He is a huge character and I thought I didn’t stand a chance.”
The court has previously heard that she revealed to her family in the mid-1990s that she had been abused by Mr Harris. Her family wrote to Mr Harris to denounce what he had done and he wrote a contrite letter in return accepting that he was “sickened” by what he had done but claimed nothing had happened until after she was aged 18. She said that his version was wrong.
She claimed she emerged from a shower wrapped only in a towel to find Harris who gave her one of his “big hugs and tickles” that she found “creepy” before putting his hand inside the towel and abusing her, the jury of six men and women was told.
She said that she became “scared” of him at an early age. "The way he hugged you and touched you all over, it was cringey,” she said. “The way Rolf folded himself around you, he was a big man... he enfolded you in his arms and then touched you up and down over your body.
The woman said: "I was shocked and panicked by it because I didn't know what to do. I thought 'I don't know quite what's happened here but whatever it is, it's not good'.
“I just sat on the edge of the bed in a state of shock, really."
He rarely spoke when he molested the woman – sometimes in her family home – and acted jovially with others as if nothing had ever happened, she told the court. After the claimed assault, the alleged victim said that he “pretended as if nothing had happened and said 'see you downstairs'."
The alleged incident is not included among charges that Harris faces, because it happened abroad before they could be prosecuted in the UK, the court was told. The woman is named on seven of the 12 indecent assault charges against the artist and musician after their return to Britain. Harris denies all the charges.
The court heard that the abuse continued in near view of his wife, Alwen, and daughter Bindi, when he passed the alleged victim a towel after she emerged from snorkelling in the sea during the holiday. She was wearing a flesh coloured bikini which Mr Harris told her many years later that had always “turned him on”, she told the court.
Asked why she had not raised the alarm or even told him to “get off”, the woman said: “I was a very shy child, excruciatingly shy really, and I just hadn't got the guts to shout out and I thought, well, if you shout out it will cause mayhem anyway.”
She said she became “numbed” after the alleged attacks continued during the holiday at the entertainers’ parents’ home while she was still in bed. She said they continued some months after they returned to England at her family’s home and at the Harris’s new home in Bray where she visited her friend.
She said she could not contemplate not seeing her friend again but took a small bottle of gin with her to help her cope if Mr Harris was at home. She said she became confused, angry and began to panic that led to her starting to drink her parents’ gin when she was aged around 13. “It would calm me right down, stop my heart beating, stop my anxieties,” she told the court.
The court has previously heard that she was an alcoholic by the time she was in her late 20s and did not come forward about the abuse until 18 years after the alleged abuse ended.
She said the assaults continued including in the indoor swimming pool Harris’s home when she was aged 19. “I felt it was all my fault - what took place between me and Rolf - because I didn't stop him. I should have shouted and screamed,” the woman said.
"I just felt really low and all my self-confidence went."
Mr Harris listened to the proceedings through a hearing loop while his wife and other members of his family sat in a packed public gallery. During a break in the evidence, Mr Harris smiled and waved to his wife who returned the gesture.
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