Rolf Harris accuser under fire in court over media deals

Last updated 09:59 21/05/2014

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An Australian woman has been accused of 'spicing up' her story of a sexual assault by Rolf Harris, after Woman's Day magazine demanded more salacious details.

Tonya Lee, 43, told a court on Tuesday (local time) she was on a "dream" trip to London at age 15, when Harris invited her to sit on his knee in a London pub, then sexually abused her.

But she came under intense cross examination by Harris' legal team over her deals last year with Australian TV programme A Current Affair and Woman's Day, to reveal all about the incident in exchange for A$60,000 (NZ$64,683).

And she admitted lying to police when they asked whether she would go to the media with her story.

Harris, 84, has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of indecent assault against four complainants.

The last three of the charges relate to Lee.

She took the witness stand, seated behind a curtain that shielded her from the media and from Harris. However she waived her right to anonymity, prosecutors Sasha Wass QC said.

Lee said she was interested in theatre as a 11 or 12-year-old and joined the Shopfront Theatre youth group in Sydney.

Just after she turned 15 she was chosen to join their six-week tour to the UK in 1986 - it was a dream come true, she said: her first trip overseas.

The 14-strong troupe were to perform in cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham, and see the sights in Scotland and Stratford Upon Avon.

When they arrived in London from Sydney a surprise had been arranged - Harris was at the airport to meet the group.

"It was quite overwhelming... it made me feel really special," Lee said.

That evening Harris met the group in a pub for dinner. The group were in high spirits and sung songs - Lee sang a solo.

Then Harris said "you have a lovely singing voice, come and tell me a bit about yourself ... come and sit down on my lap".

She did so. He asked about her musical ambitions, and plans for the tour.

But then she noticed "he was moving back and forth, rubbing (his crotch) against me", she said. He then started to pat her on the thigh, then moved his hand between her legs, "higher and higher".

She was feeling very uncomfortable and "started to panic" wondering how she could get out of the situation, but Harris was still joking and laughing with her and other dinner guests, his actions hidden by the table, Lee said.

When his hand touched her crotch she made an excuse and went to the bathroom. She sat there with a "whole lot of confusion" in her head - "I really didn't know how to handle it," she said. She decided not to tell anyone.

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But when she came out of the lavatory, Harris was waiting in the hallway outside. He gave her an "all-encompassing" hug and wedged her between the wall and a big pot plant.

She felt intimidated, claustrophobic and trapped, she said.

Harris put his hand down her top and fondled her breast. "I was petrified... I probably should have screamed but I think I was in shock," she said.

Harris then put his hand into her tights and underwear and put his fingers inside her.

"I wanted to burst into tears and I just wanted to run," she said. "I was gobsmacked and I was shocked, completely in disbelief."

Harris then gave her another hug and walked away, Lee said.

She went back into the bathroom and cried. She felt disgusting, and the rest of the tour was "tainted" and she was an "empty vessel".

The attack triggered anorexia and bulimia - by the end of the tour she had lost 6kg and would look at her legs under her duffle coat to check her weight loss. Her battle with eating disorders lasted another 20 years, and combined with alcohol abuse.

But she put on a "happy mask", she said, and told almost no-one about what had happened until her late 30s, because she was "still confused as to what sexual assault was" and doubted anyone would believe her.

In 2013 her partner showed her a newspaper front page revealing that British detectives were in Australia talking to people allegedly assaulted by Harris.

Lee said her partner persuaded her to meet celebrity agent Max Markson, whom he had seen in Celebrity Apprentice, and Markson set up a deal with Woman's Day and A Current Affair, for interviews to take place after she spoke to police.

Lee said she had never received the full payment from Markson, calling him a "charlatan".

Under cross examination, Lee admitted she had lied to police by giving them the impression she had not arranged a media deal.

"You looked that officer in the eye and told a bare-faced lie," defence barrister Sonia Woodley, said.

"Yes," Lee replied. She blamed her partner for "aggressively" chasing the media deal. "I felt like I was trapped," she said. "It was a huge whirlwind."

The decision had plagued her ever since. "It was a huge mistake," she said saying all she had wanted was the chance to tell her story in court, but she felt "bombarded" and pushed to go through with the media deal.

Woodley said it was clear from copies of a draft version of her Woman's Day magazine story that she had been told to "spice up" her account.

Notes on the story showed the magazine had asked for details of "smells and songs" at the dinner with Harris, and had asked for "emotional quotes" about her feelings and reactions during and after the assault.

Lee said she had just been asked to add detail.

Lee's cross examination at Southwark Crown Court continues on Wednesday (Thursday, NZT).

- Sydney Morning Herald

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