Harris a Hyde in Hamilton

'Rolf Harris was a different man when not on show'

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2014
WANDERING GROPER: Rolf Harris.
Reuters
WANDERING GROPER: Rolf Harris performs at the Glastonbury Festival 2009 in south west England.

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Rolf Harris was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character when he visited Hamilton in the 1980s to raise awareness of child abuse.

That's the opinion of Maxine Hodgson, founder and former chief executive of Parentline who brought Harris to New Zealand in 1986 to raise awareness about child sexual abuse - the same year he committed an indecent assault against a 14-year-old girl.

The children's entertainer and artist was found guilty on Monday of 12 charges of indecent assault against four girls, between 1968 and 1986.

In August 1986, Harris toured Hamilton for three days as part of the child sex abuse campaign. His singing, television appearances and clever brush paintings had made him a household name at the time.

Hodgson spent part of the visit in his company and found when he was alone he was far removed from his public image. "I was with him 50 per cent of that time, driving him around from place to place. He was a grumpy old bastard [and] very demanding. He was sour and irritable and he did not want to do things. But the moment we got to where we had to go he took on the bright, happy persona that people know him for.

"For some reason he did not seem to feel the need to hide his true self from me. You might say I saw both the Jekyll and Hyde of him.

"I was surprised when I heard of the allegations against him. But I'm surprised every time when brave people come forward and say ‘This happened to me'. Abusers are not usually people in grubby coats. They are personable and colluding and manipulative to get what they want."

She hoped the verdict would help to get people talking about the issue of child abuse.

"I hope there is not going to be any leniency and he gets due justice. People tend to feel sympathetic for frail old men, but the only way they can truly be frail is if they are in a wheelchair with their hands cut off. That's the only way people can be safe from these paedophiles."

Child Matters chief executive Anthea Simcock also met Harris during his Hamilton visit. Unlike Hodgson, she saw only the Australian entertainer's affable public personality.

"When he was here promoting his video about child abuse he seemed so plausible. He had this song which went ‘My body's nobody's body but mine, you run your own body, let me run mine' - the lyrics were very catchy and got stuck in your head, even to this day."

Harris' enthusiastic endorsement of the anti-abuse campaign was, as it turned out, a devious means of cloaking his attraction to underage girls, she said.

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"The relevant word is plausible. When you have someone like him going out of his way to protect children the natural reaction is not to suspect them of anything."

The visit to Hamilton included trips to schools, a marae and lectures at social service agencies. Harris also did two large paintings at then-Chartwell Square, which were auctioned and used to raise money for the campaign.

In an interview with the Waikato Times he said he had decided to speak up against sexual abuse.

"I thought it would be good to repay the happiness in my childhood."

The 1986 visit is not Harris' only connection to the Waikato. At his trial, jurors heard evidence of abuse against New Zealand girls, including an alleged incident involving a 15-year-old girl in Hamilton in 1991. The alleged abuse did not form part of the charges he faced, as it occurred outside the Southwark Crown Court's jurisdiction.

The court heard in 1991, in Hamilton, the 15-year-old girl accompanied 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," Crown prosecutor Sasha Wass, QC, told the court.

- Waikato Times

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