Editorial: When the laughter stops

Last updated 05:00 07/07/2014

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OPINION: Before the rise of political correctness and social awareness, the creepy old uncle figure with the wandering hands was considered every family's little joke. Just up to his old tricks, eh? Don't worry about him, girls - he's harmless, just having a bit of fun.

There's no laughing now with the sentencing of the popular celebrity Rolf Harris to five years and nine months' prison on 12 charges of indecent assault. Following his cataclysmic plummet into disgrace and that of another well-liked entertainer Jimmy Savile before him, the much-televised image of the leering celebrity frontman in the close company of young girls has become a source of anger and revulsion around the world.

As dozens more claims emerge of Harris fondling women and girls with impunity when he was at the height of his popularity, his smiling public persona lies in ruins. We now know him to be a depraved and brazen sex offender who abused his victims without fear that he would be found out.

This was the cult of celebrity being abused in the most horrific and sustained manner imaginable. His starstruck fans, the children of his fans, close family friends, their children, even New Zealand journalists, were all considered fair game for a man for whom morality and law held no apparent meaning. He acted on his status of fame and power, safe in the knowledge that his word would always be believed against that of any young female if it came down to it.

Whether grooming his victims over time or grasping opportunities when he saw them, he shattered the trust, and with it the lives, of so many girls that the full extent of the damage he has wreaked will never be known.

All the while Harris, like Savile, was the respectable face of various charities, safety programmes and even, ironically, a paint advertising campaign in which the word trust was part of the slogan, hoodwinking the establishment with his breathtaking hypocrisy.

In an age when global communication is as simple and immediate as a few keystrokes and children are taught to keep themselves safe from predators, offending on this scale could not go undetected for ever.

And so it was that the litany of complaints that came to light after Savile's death inevitably focused attention on Harris. Maybe the two old lechers compared notes in their day. The thought of it is monstrous.

At 84, it is possible that Harris could die in prison. A wicked life for so many destroyed. Karma has her way.

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- The Southland Times

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