'Rolf Harris groped me', woman tells court

NICK MILLER
Last updated 07:00 16/05/2014
rolf harris
STEFAN WERMUTH/Reuters
ON TRIAL: Rolf Harris arriving at Southwark Crown Court in central London for his trial for indecent assault.

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A young girl "wanted to scream" when Rolf Harris aggressively groped her, but no sound came out, a British court has been told.

A 52-year-old woman, giving evidence from behind a curtain, broke down as she recalled the alleged attack, in the late 1960s in a community centre near Portsmouth when she was 8 or 9 years old.

She said Harris twice put his hand between her legs, amidst a crowd of excited children.

However Harris has never visited that community centre, his defence lawyer said.

Another woman, also behind a curtain, told the court she was working as a waitress aged 14 or 15 when Harris firmly groped her bottom at a different celebrity event.

Harris, 84, has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of indecent assault. Two of those charges related to the two complainants who took the witness stand at London's Southwark Crown Court on Thursday (overnight NZT).

They cannot be named for legal reasons.

The first said she visited the community centre on a chilly Saturday morning and found it packed with children, some holding autograph books.

Rolf Harris was there - he sang Two Little Boys - then the complainant joined a "disorderly queue" of thrilled autograph seekers, clutching a piece of paper her sister had given her.

On a small stage she got close to the entertainer, who turned round and said "hello, what's your name" and asked what she wanted him to write.

She asked for "best wishes" and he leaned into her as he signed.

But when she took back the paper, "the next thing I knew I felt his hand", she said. "He was looking at me, smiling, and I smiled ... from out of nowhere I felt his hand go down my back and up my legs".

At first she thought it was an accident, she said. "Nothing like that had happened to me before and he seemed such a nice man".

But then again, almost straight away, "his hand shot up between my legs ... aggressively and forcefully," she said. "It felt aggressive and I knew it wasn't an accident."

She had an "'out of body" feeling and understood "that was wrong", she said. "I wanted to scream out ... but it didn't come out".

"He scared me because he was looking at me all the time."

Harris then carried on as if nothing had happened.

The incident has haunted her ever since, she said - "I can shut my eyes and go straight back to that moment."

She cannot bear watching Harris on television and told her family and some friends about it. But until other accusations against Harris emerged she felt no-one would believe her.

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Sonia Woodley QC, Harris' barrister, put it to the witness that Harris had never been to the community centre she had described. However the witness insisted that she had seen him.

In a statement read to the court, the witness' ex-husband said he remembered her once telling him about the assault when Harris came onto the TV.

"She is probably the most honest person I know," he said in the statement.

A second complainant also became distraught when she recalled an incident that was "as clear in my mind today as the day it happened".

Now 52, she was 14 or 15 in the mid-1970s, working as a waitress at an event in Cambridge - possibly Celebrity It's a Knockout - when she heard a loud barking noise. Going outside, she saw Harris with a small group of people.

He was "crouched on all fours" with a terrier-like dog in front of him and they were both barking at each other.

"He was playing up to the crowd," she said.

He came up to her, put his arm around her shoulder then started rubbing her back. He then put his hand on her bottom.

"It was basically like groping," she said. "(His hand) was very firm and he squeezed (my bottom) a few times.... I knew it was wrong."

She felt frozen, embarrassed and very awkward, she said. She told some people over the years since, but never went to police.

"It was the 70s, things like that weren't talked about," she said.

Since then she has had a "physical reaction" to seeing Harris' face in the newspaper, she said.

Thursday's hearing also had a moment of comedy, as an old witness with a thick West Country accent gave rambling testimony about close encounters with celebrities such as Diana Dors and Sid James, before taking the defence counsel to task for suggesting he had misremembered Rolf Harris visiting his town.

"You are suggesting I am making up stories, he said, in an outraged voice. "I am not a man who is stupid or otherwise."

He then explained to her how she could go and check council archives for a record of Harris' visit.

He was the first of two witnesses who recalled Harris visiting the town near Portsmouth around the time the complainant claimed she was assaulted.

The trial before Mr Justice Sweeney continues next week.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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