Rolf Harris 'got thrill from committing offences'

Last updated 06:58 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.

Rolf Harris
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Rolf Harris arrives with his daughter Bindi (L) and wife Alwen Hughes (2nd R) at Southwark Crown Court in London May 29, 2014.

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Entertainer Rolf Harris, who for decades cultivated an image of the affectionate uncle with numerous children's television programmes, has been sentenced in the UK to five years and nine months in prison for a string of abuses against young girls.

Under British law, Harris was likely to leave jail before May 2017 owing to 'licence' in which a prisoner serving a term of more than 12 months would be released at the halfway point of the sentence. The 84-year-old would then be 87.

Television footage showed Harris leaving his home on a boat, before arriving at court in a car.

Harris showed no reaction when he heard the sentence Friday for 12 indecent assaults on four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.

Judge Nigel Sweeney said the verdicts of the jury showed Harris "was a sex offender" during the period in question.

"You took advantage of the trust placed in you because of your celebrity status," the judge said at Southwark Crown Court.

"You got a thrill from committing the offences while others were present or nearby."

Justice Sweeney said Harris had shown no remorse for the crimes "at all".

"Your reputation lies in ruins," he said.

"You have no-one to blame but yourself."

Ignoring the appeals of Harris' attorney that the trial had punished him enough, Justice Sweeney ruled that he must spend time behind bars for the 12 counts of abuse that took place from the 1960s to the 1980s.  

''You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all,'' Sweeney said.

The sentence was a spectacular fall from grace for the Australian-born celebrity. He was granted the privilege of painting an official portrait for Queen Elizabeth II for her 80th birthday, and performed at the monarch's Diamond Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace in 2012.  

His conviction followed investigations into sex abuse allegations from decades ago against a number of British celebrities, including the late BBC TV host Jimmy Savile, who was a friend of Harris. After he died in 2011, police determined Savile had molested hundreds of young people.

Wearing a colourful tie, Harris smiled briefly ON Friday, but did not respond to reporters shouting questions about whether he had anything to say to his victims.

Once in court, prosecutors read out statements by victims, including one describing how the attacks made her feel ''dirty, grubby and disgusting''.  

''The knowledge of what he had done to me haunted me,'' the statement said.

''However, his popularity with the British public made it harder for me to deal with.''

Harris was accompanied in court by his daughter Bindi, whose friend was one of his victims.  

He left court in a prison van, with the media chasing alongside, taking photos through its windows.

Harris' sentence prompted at least 12 new allegations against him to emerge, according to the law firm Slater & Gordon. Yesterday, New Zealand MP and former broadcaster Maggie Barry claimed Harris had groped her leg during a radio interview in the 1980s.

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VICTIM BRAVERY

The main complainant had "suffered severe psychological injury in consequence", Justice Sweeney said.

"I have no doubt ... that it was your crimes against her that resulted in her becoming an alcoholic for many years with all that that entailed."

But Justice Sweeney said it was her "brave recovery" from alcoholism that gave her the courage to make the first complaint against Harris which "began the series of events which led to your prosecution and conviction".

Justice Sweeney said he was sure that Harris continued to abuse the main complainant for a decade after the charges he had been tried for, and would be sentenced over.

"You got away with your offending for years."

Justice Sweeney said he would have imposed a higher sentence but was constrained by the law as it was at the time of the offences. Some of the offences carried a term up to life in jail if they had been committed in modern times.

"Only an immediate custodial sentence is appropriate for each (offence)."

Harris will immediately be taken to Wandsworth prison in south west London. He'll then be transferred at a later date to a lower-security facility.

HARRIS COULD FACE DAMAGES CLAIMS

The judge on Friday said the attacks were a ''breach of trust'', especially for the main victim, who was a childhood friend of Harris's daughter Bindi.

Other aggravating factors included the age gap between Harris and his victims, the youngest of whom was seven or eight.

The judge said he wouldn't consider compensation because assessing the psychological harm done to the victims was a complex process. Harris could, however, face a raft of damages claims in the civil courts.

Defence lawyer Sonia Woodley QC on Friday revealed the court had seen medical reports on Harris and his wife Alwen, who wasn't in court on Friday, with a family spokesman saying she was suffering from arthritis.

Woodley also argued, in mitigation, that Harris's attacks were ''opportunistic rather than predatory''.

The barrister added that Harris had no prior convictions and hadn't committed any sexual offences after 1994.

''For the last 20 years he has led an upright life,'' Woodley told Southwark Crown Court.

She said since his arrest was made public in April 2013, his lawyers have received three lever arch files of letters and emails and two sacks of cards from supporters, including young children who have met the entertainer.

''Yes, he must be punished for the offences that he has committed, but it would be unfair to ignore the good that he has done in his life,'' she said.

Woodley noted Harris had been patron of 16 charities during his life.

Since his conviction on Monday, Harris has been publicly shamed  and stripped of various honours.

''He has already been punished apart from any sentence imposed by this court,'' Woodley said.

HAUNTED MEMORIES

The court also heard harrowing statements regarding the impact of Harris's indecent assaults on his four victims.

Bindi's friend said in a victim impact statement read to the  court that the Australian's abuse had left her feeling ''dirty, grubby and disgusting''.

''The whole sordid saga has traumatised me.''

The woman, now 49, said after she was first abused at the age of 13 she'd had panic attacks, suffered from anxiety and started  drinking.

She said as a young girl she'd always wanted to have a career, settle down and have a family.

''However, as a direct result of his actions, this has never materialised,'' she said in the statement read out by prosecution lawyer Esther Schutzer-Weissman.

Australian woman Tonya Lee was assaulted by Harris when she visited London in 1986 as a 15-year-old. She said the incident at a pub was a ''turning point'' in her life from which she never recovered.

''I have never felt safe since, I life in a constant state of anxiety,'' said in her impact statement read out by Schutzer-Weissman.

''What Mr Harris took from me was my very essence. I believe that it was for Mr Harris a forgettable moment, but it was something for me I will never move on from.''

Lee, who developed eating and alcohol problems after the attack, revealed in later life she had her three children removed from her care.

Harris's youngest victim was groped when she asked for his autograph in the late 1960s. She said seeing the star at a community centre was her first taste of independence.

But in those few moments her ''childhood innocence was gone'', she said in her statement.

She subsequently didn't like being touched by men and found it difficult to form relationships.

A fourth victim who was assaulted at a celebrity sporting event in Cambridge when she was a teenager said Harris took advantage of her, making her feel ashamed.

The 52-year-old said the star ''treated me like a toy'' that he could play with for his own pleasure.

- Fairfax Aus with AAP, AP

- Stuff

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