'Rolf Harris put hands in my pants'

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 10:04 05/07/2014
Reuters

Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris leaves Southwark Crown Court in a van after being jailed for almost six years for sexually assaulting young girls. Joel Flynn reports.

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A former makeup artist for Television New Zealand has described being sexually assaulted by Rolf Harris while preparing him for an on-screen interview.

Christchurch woman Lee Howden told Radio NZ she was inspired to come forward with her story after hearing MP and former broadcaster Maggie Barry's account of being groped by the disgraced entertainer in the 1980s.

Barry told RadioLive she was interviewing Harris when he slid his hand up her thigh.

He turned "nasty" when she rebuffed his advance, she said.

Harris was this week found guilty in London on 12 charges of indecently assaulting four girls over nearly 20 years from 1968.

Howden told Radio NZ the 84-year-old assaulted her in the 1980s while she was doing his make-up for an on-air interview in a Christchurch studio.

She was in her mid-20s at the time and the assault happened when she went into the studio during a break to re-do his make-up.

"The next minute I felt the hands going up my right leg, right inside of my underpants, and I just about died. I dropped my tools and I just went straight out into the control room," she told Radio NZ.

"It was so quick [and] there would have been at least another three people in that studio. I was a bit tearful and I said, 'I am not going near that man until he leaves'.

"I think I stayed in the toilets until he left the building. I just thought he was a disgusting, dirty old man and I could not wait to get away from him," she told Radio NZ

Howden said she would consider lodging a complaint with New Zealand police about the incident, if it would be of any help to them.

"I have been told that the police are interested in finding more people. I know he is an old man now, but he just seems so arrogant - even during the trial."

Witnesses from New Zealand and Australia gave evidence at the trial, but Harris was not charged with offences against them as the court did not have jurisdiction to prosecute incidents that took place outside Britain.

New Zealand police were now investigating whether Harris could face similar charges for crimes allegedly committed here.

Barry said yesterday that her experience could have been different had she been younger.

"If I'd been a young person and had been uncertain or maybe over- awed a little bit by his celebrity status I think it would have been a very different experience," the National MP said.

Meanwhile, doubt clouds the future of a painting that for 40 years has had pride of place in a Taranaki community hall. The painting of the Three Sisters pinnacles was created by Harris.

Harris drew the towering rock stacks, off the north Taranaki coast at Tongaporutu, from a photograph after being presented with it at the New Plymouth Opera House in 1973. He was there as a guest of the Tongaporutu women's division of Federated Farmers.

Former Tongaporutu hall committee member Gay Andrews recalled his visit, and watching him create the painting in his rapid broad-brush style. "I can remember him up on the stage and we were all cheering when he was painting.

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"It's sad for our painting," she said of Harris' conviction this week.

Some residents of the small community are uncomfortable about keeping the painting in the wake of the 84-year-old's entertainer's downfall. Their discomfort is shared by other owners of Harris paintings around the world - and they are likely to find it harder to dispose of them after eBay announced it was reviewing the sale of his works on its auction website.

Harris whipped up many original paintings on stages all around New Zealand on his many visits over the years.

An auction of one of them failed to reach its $8000 asking price when it was put on Trade Me last month.

- The Press

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