Rolf Harris trial begins for ‘sex attacks against a string of girls’.
A blind, disabled woman and a 12-year-old girl were among those allegedly groped by Rolf Harris, who is on trial for another wave of sex charges spanning 30 years, a court heard.
The TV entertainer allegedly assaulted seven girls and women in a series of “brazen” assaults between 1971 and 2004, the jury at Southwark Crown Court was told.
The alleged incidents took place in public, and prosecutor Jonathan Rees asked jury members to consider whether it was the 86-year-old’s celebrity status that had made him so audacious.
Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC told the jury of seven women and five men that Harris had “an appetite for sexually assaulting young girls and women”.
“For his own sexual gratification, Mr Harris deliberately touched seven females… in a sexual way without their consent,” Mr Rees told the Southwark Crown Court.
“Mr Harris’ previous convictions establish that since 1969 he has a propensity indecently to assault young girls and women.”
Mr Harris has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of indecent assault and one alternative count of sexual assault, against the seven complainants between 1971 and 2004 – when Harris was aged between 41 and 74.
Harris’ behaviour “might be described as unwanted groping”, Mr Rees said, and it took place in public settings.
He suggested the jury consider whether Mr Harris’ celebrity status had made him so brazen.
The jury heard that in July 1971 a 14-year-old girl from the north of England was performing at a youth music festival in a London theatre where Harris was presenting awards.
She told police Harris appeared to take a shine to her, following her around and smiling in a “smirky way”.
When she approached him after the awards to get his autograph, she said, he put his hands on her waist and pulled him onto his lap, put his hand up her skirt and touched her over her tights and knickers.
The jury were shown a photograph of the alleged victim taken with Harris on the day she says she was attacked. They also saw the autograph he gave her.
In 1977 Harris was interviewed at a radio studio in Portsmouth, and a 12-year-old girl waited outside with her mother for an autograph.
She told police Harris leant over and said “let’s give you a little cuddle”, then put an arm around her back and another up her skirt, putting his hand inside her knickers.
He then signed her autograph book – an autograph the jury was shown.
Also in 1977, in September, Harris allegedly assaulted another woman who was blind and disabled.
He was at Moorfields Hospital in London where the woman – then 27 – was working.
The victim said she was sitting at a table in a small room in the hospital when Harris entered.
He said “has anyone told you what a good-looking woman you are?” and she reached out to shake his hand.
But Harris said he “couldn’t be doing with all of that” then crouched down, kissed the back of her neck then “began slobbering all over her”.
The woman told him to get off but he put one hand down the back of her skirt and the other on her bottom.
Despite her continued complaints he then took off her glasses and squeezed her breasts and nipples.
She angrily bent his fingers back and noticed his wedding ring. She told police the attack lasted ten minutes – by the end she was shouting at him to back off.
In 1978 Harris was filming a TV program called Star Games in Cambridge, where a 16-year-old schoolgirl was assigned as his ‘gofer’– fetching food, carrying his bags and passing on messages.
At one point, she said, Harris said he wanted to thank her for working so hard. He asked her to “come here” and put one arm around her, then cupped her breast with the other, possibly telling her she was “a bit irresistible”.
Later he invited her into a car, sidled over to her and slid his hand up her thigh over her jeans.
She went home and told her father Harris was “a dirty old man” – but he replied that he wasn’t surprised given what she was wearing (a pink fluffy jumper and jeans).
In 1983 a 13-year-old girl was in the audience for a BBC show whose guests included Harris and Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael.
She said Harris was “cuddly” towards her during the day, then around midday she was invited into a ‘green room’ at the studio for refreshments.
The victim said she went to get a drink and Harris came over to her then slid his hand across her clothing onto her breast, quietly saying to her “do you often get molested on a Saturday morning?”
He then walked away leaving his victim in shock, Mr Rees said.
Mr Harris now accepts, Mr Rees said, that he might have used a similar phrase to the one the victim claimed but he says it was “wholly innocent” and taken out of context – and that her memory of the assault was a false memory or a lie.
Then in 2002, an 18-year old backing singer was rehearsing with a band preparing for a concert.
Harris hobbled into the studio supported by a stick, she said, and commented that there was “a beautiful girl in the room”.
He came over to the woman, told her she was gorgeous and started stroking her lower back exposed by her crop top.
He allegedly told her “Do you know what I find really attractive in a woman? If you were to join up the two dimples on a woman’s back to your bum crack it would make the shape of a diamond. I think it’s really sexy.”
He stroked her for at least 7 seconds, she said, then he walked away.
The band members remember Harris’ “creepy, cringing and lecherous” conduct, Mr Rees said.
The final allegation was from April/May 2004, when a 42 year-old woman was working on a BBC TV program called Test Your Pet presented by Harris.
The woman attended the show’s ‘wrap party’ in an unused studio. She said that when she arrived Harris pushed her against a partition using his body, put his hands on her breasts and thrust his crotch against her, without speaking.
Harris was interviewed by police in 2015 and told them he did not know any of the people, had little recollection of the events and denied assaulting any of them.
Mr Rees reminded the jury that Harris is currently in prison, having been convicted in July 2014 of 12 offences of indecent assault carried out on four female victims aged between 8 and 19 at the time.
The women in the new trial contacted police after reading or hearing about the first trial.
“Notwithstanding the verdicts of the jury in that trial … Mr Harris continues to maintain his innocence in respect of all 12 offences,” Mr Rees said.
After the prosecution opening the first alleged victim, from 1971, began giving her evidence.
The woman, now 60, said while she was at the theatre “I always felt if I turned around (Harris) was not far behind”, and he was smiling a lot – “more of a smirk”.
She said when she went up to him for an autograph he put his hands on her waist and sat her on his lap, and almost immediately “I felt that he’d placed his hand where he shouldn’t, in a private area”, on her vaginal area over her tights.
“I was extremely shocked and frightened,” she said. She told her father but the family never discussed the attack – “we were not the sort of family to talk about things like that,” she said.
The woman became emotional during her evidence, breaking off at times and wiping her eyes.
Harris watched proceedings by video link from prison, sitting at a desk wearing a dark suit, white shirt and dark patterned tie.
The trial before judge Alistair McCreath continues.