'Handy' Harris left his mark in Hamilton

20:10, May 11 2014

Australian entertainer Rolf Harris will escape scrutiny over his alleged sexual abuse of New Zealand girls as the claims fall outside the scope of his UK trial.

Harris, 84, faces 12 charges of indecent assault against four girls in the United Kingdom between 1968 and 1986. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Jurors heard evidence of abuse against New Zealand girls during the Crown prosecution's opening address at Southwark Crown Court on Saturday NZT.

But because the alleged events happened outside the court's jurisdiction, they are not included in the charges.

Crown prosecutor Sasha Wass, QC, detailed two incidents in New Zealand.

In 1970, Harris allegedly put his hands under the dress of a 16 or 17-year-old, known as "MC", at a function in the North Island while he was dancing with her.

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"She felt sick and confused and embarrassed," Wass said.

"The experience of MC shows another step in the pattern of Mr Harris' behaviour. He was targeting people who were in awe of him, he pushed the boundaries even in a public place, a dance floor. He knew he could get away with it."

In 1991, in Hamilton, a 15-year-old girl went with her mother to see Harris at a promotion for British Paints at a local hardware store.

"[Harris] stepped towards [the girl] as if to hug her and then put his right hand into her blouse and touched her left breast. At the same time he put his left hand on her right buttock and squeezed it," Wass said.

The girl stepped back and Harris laughed. Later she told her mother Harris was "a bit handy, mum".

When they posed for a photo later, the mother felt Harris rubbing his groin against her buttocks. She stood on his foot, turned around and said "you are a disgusting creature".

Harris replied in a whisper "she liked it", referring to her daughter, Wass said.

The court was told Harris was a Jekyll and Hyde character, whose immense talent and public generosity to children and animals hid a darker side - he was sexually attracted to young girls.

Harris allegedly repeatedly approached girls in a friendly way, then took advantage of his close physical contact to indecently assault them.

At Channel Seven in Australia he was known as "the octopus" for putting his hands on women, Wass said.

Wass said Harris once wrote a "letter of confession" to an alleged victim's father. The letter avoided admitting the sexual relationship took place when she was underage.

Wass said it was like Bill Clinton confessing to smoking marijuana but saying he didn't inhale.

Harris arrived at court with his wife Alwen, daughter Bindi, and other family and friends including his niece Jenny Harris.

The trial before Justice Sweeney was expected to last until late June. The first witness was expected to take the stand tonight, UK time.

Waikato Times