Rolf Harris used his “untouchable” reputation to conceal a string of shocking assaults on children and young women, it was claimed during the opening day of the entertainer’s trial.
The four alleged victims of the presenter, painter and musician include his daughter’s childhood friend, whom he is alleged to have groomed and molested from the age of 13, Southwark Crown Court heard.
The jury was told that Mr Harris, who denies all charges, wrote a letter to the girl’s parents years later, apologising for her experiences but claiming he was unaware of how she felt, and maintaining their relationship only occurred when she was older.
Using a hearing loop to follow proceedings, Mr Harris appeared relaxed as he faced the 12 counts of indecent assault against four victims spanning three decades between 1968 and 1986.
In a packed courtroom, with his obviously frail wife Alwen Hughes in attendance, Mr Harris looked on as Sasha Wass, QC, opened the case for the prosecution by saying the 84-year-old had a “Jekyll and Hyde” character. She added that his “darker side” was “sexually attracted to children and underage girls”.
The Crown went on to argue that Mr Harris, who painted a picture for the Queen to celebrate her 80th birthday in 2005, before being made a CBE the following year, used his considerable reputation to hide the assaults on four children and young girls.
“Concealed behind this charming and amicable children’s entertainer lay a man who exploited the very children who were drawn to him,” Ms Wass said. The court heard how his alleged victims were aged between seven or eight and 19 when the “brazen” offences were said to have taken place. The abuse, which is said to have included groping, fondling and “digital penetration”, was described in detail.
The prosecution said Mr Harris was known as “the octopus” at an Australian TV channel due to the way he touched women inappropriately. Ms Wass said that the defendant’s alleged victims were “overawed” at meeting him, adding that he was “too powerful” for them to report his alleged crimes.
He had arrived in court accompanied by two security guards, his wife, and his daughter Bindi, who the jury heard was a childhood friend of one of the accusers. The alleged victim had travelled with the family on a holiday.
It was against this alleged victim, who lived near the family home, that seven of the 12 alleged counts are said to have been carried out. However, Mr Harris cannot be charged with alleged assaults that happened abroad before 1997. She had allegedly been molested and groomed by Mr Harris from that holiday “like a young puppy”, and according to medical reports became a “full-blown alcoholic within a few years”. Later she sought treatment before telling her parents of Mr Harris’s alleged assault. In a letter to this victim’s father in 1997, Mr Harris allegedly said he was in a state of “self-loathing” and felt “sickened” by the misery he had caused her.
During a police interview in 2012 Mr Harris allegedly said he “categorically” denied having had sexual contact with the complainant while she was under the age of 16, though did admit a later “consensual sexual relationship” when she was an adult.
During a later interview Ms Wass said he went on to detail claims that in 1994 she had written asking for £25,000 to “set up an animal sanctuary”.
The court went on to hear the details of alleged assaults relating to three other charges. These included a woman who claims Mr Harris groped her when she was eight years old and a woman who said he groped her during an It’s a Knockout celebrity event in Cambridge when she was 14 in the 1970s.
The final three counts of indecent assault refer to an alleged victim who was part of an Australian theatre company which visited the UK in 1986. She claims she met Mr Harris at a dinner, and that he rubbed his penis against her and touched her vagina.
“The chances of so many people making up similar false allegations are just ludicrous,” Ms Wass told jurors.
The case continues.
Extract: Rolf Harris’s letter
Rolf Harris wrote to the father of one of his alleged victims in March 1997, asking for forgiveness:
Please forgive me for not writing sooner. You said in your letter to me that you never wanted to see me or hear from me again, but now [the alleged victim] says it’s all right to write to you.
Nothing took place in a physical way until we had moved to Highlands. I think about 1983 or 84 was the first time.
When I see the misery I have caused [the alleged victim] I am sickened by myself. You can’t go back and change things that you have done in this life – I wish to God I could.
I find it hard to like myself in any way, shape or form. And as I do these Animal programmes, I see the unconditional love that dogs give to their owners and I wish I could start to love myself again.
If there is any way I could atone for what I have done I would willingly do it. If there is a way I can start to help [the alleged victim] to heal herself, I would willingly do it.
I know that what I did was wrong but we are, all of us, fallible and oh how I deluded myself. Please forgive me, love Rolf.