Belfast Telegraph

Rolf Harris guilty: Northern Ireland journalist Letitia Fitzpatrick who was alleged victim of entertainer relieved at conviction

A Northern Ireland journalist who gave a character reference against Rolf Harris and said she was the victim of his abusive behaviour has spoken of her relief after he was found guilty of indecent assault.

Letitia Fitzpatrick told the BBC she was a victim of the presenter and musician's behaviour when she was working for the broadcaster in 1991.

Ms Fitzpatrick gave a statement to the court over an incident at a leisure centre in west Belfast, where she said Harris had "forced his tongue into my mouth".

But, the evidence was not allowed to be used as part of the prosecution.

The veteran entertainer was today found guilty of 12 sex charges involving four women.

Speaking to the BBC, Letitia Fitzpatrick said: "As I said goodbye, he grabbed my face in his hands and he pulled my face towards him and he forced his tongue into my mouth.

"I was really shocked. He pulled away, walked away, and it all happened in a matter of seconds.

"I was too shocked to speak.

"I didn't mention it to the cameraman, and I didn't mention it to anybody in the BBC at the time."

Several women came forward to claim that Rolf Harris had groped them but their evidence was not allowed to be used as part of the prosecution.

Details of alleged victims who said they had been targeted were presented to Mr Justice Sweeney but ruled inadmissible as part of the case.

But today, the veteran entertainer saw his decades in the spotlight end in disgrace.

The 84-year-old, once a much-loved artist and musician, was convicted at Southwark Crown Court of 12 sex charges involving four women.

His army of supporters, including suited security guards and representatives from PR giant Bell Pottinger who attended every day of the trial, could do nothing to change the verdict of the jury of six men and six women.

Once seen by a UK audience as a national treasure, Harris had enjoyed years of success, netting him a multi-million pound fortune and the chance to paint the Queen.

But the downfall of an entertainer who was part of millions of British childhoods came today, as Harris became the biggest scalp claimed by detectives from high profile sex crime investigation Operation Yewtree.

Dozens more alleged victims have come forward during the trial, including several in Australia, and Scotland Yard has been in touch with their counterparts in the Australian police, but it is not yet clear whether they are pursuing any investigation in Harris's home country.

The NSPCC said it has received 28 calls relating to Harris to date, involving 13 people who claim they fell prey to the performer.

Harris remained impassive as the forewoman delivered the unanimous verdicts.

His daughter Bindi held hands with a fellow supporter, and wife Alwen and niece Jenny also watched from the public gallery as his fate was sealed.

The performer was released on bail until Friday when he will be sentenced.

Justice Sweeney warned the 84-year-old that given the conviction on all 12 counts it was "inevitable" that a custodial sentence would be possible.

"He must understand that", he said, to which Harris's barrister Sonia Woodley replied: "He does appreciate that".

The judge told the jury: "During the case you will have had to grapple with a side of life which I suspect you would prefer not to have had to grapple with.

"You have done so in the face of daily attention of large numbers of members of the media representing the public and observation of how you have conducted yourselves."

He excused them from jury service for 10 years.

Outside the courtroom, a tearful Bindi was seen walking the corridor with Alwen and Jenny, near where her father had been taken into a side room with his legal team.

During the trial, the court also heard from six other witnesses who claimed they had been groped by Harris, but were not part of the criminal charges.

The first claimed she was 11 or 12 when she was off sick from school at a family friend's home in 1969, when Harris told her "I want to be the first person to introduce you to a tongue kiss".

He then allegedly got her in "a gentle hug" before sticking his tongue into her mouth.

A second, then aged 16 or 17, was waitressing at an event in New Zealand in 1970 when she claimed the entertainer put his hand on her bottom and between her legs.

She said: "I saw the dark side of a man who I thought could be trusted."

The third supporting witness was aged 18 when she was on holiday in Malta in 1970 when her boyfriend cut his foot while swimming in the sea and Harris helped them to find a doctor.

She claimed that after she went back to thank the artist, he pinned her up against the wall in a back room in a bar, kissing and groping her.

Jurors also heard from a make-up artist who claimed Harris had groped her more than "two dozen" times in a single day.

It was alleged that the entertainer repeatedly put his hands inside the freelancer's baggy denim shorts as far as her hips while making a television programme in Australia in the mid-1980s.

The woman, then in her 20s, told the court that she later found out Harris's nickname was "the octopus".

She said she complained to her female supervisor: "That dirty old man groped me all day. I'm really pissed off."

A mother and daughter claimed that Harris targeted them both on the same day when they met him at a promotional event at a shop in Australia in 1991.

It was alleged that he first groped the 15-year-old daughter after insisting on giving her a hug, and then rubbed himself against her mother's bottom as they had their photograph taken.

When the older woman challenged him, calling Harris "a disgusting creature", he is claimed to have said: "She liked it", referring to her daughter.

Speaking outside court, Detective Chief Inspector Mick Orchard, said: "Rolf Harris has habitually denied any wrongdoing forcing his victims to recount their ordeal in public.

"He committed many offences in plain sight of people as he thought his celebrity status placed him above the law.

"I want to thank the women who came forward for their bravery, I hope today's guilty verdict will give them closure and help them to begin to move on with their lives.

"Today's case and verdict once again shows that we will always listen to, and investigate allegations regardless of the timeframe or those involved."

Jenny Hopkins, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS in London, said: "Rolf Harris used his status and position as a world famous children's entertainer to sexually assault young girls over a period spanning 18 years.

"The victims in this case have suffered in silence for many years and have only recently found the courage to come forward. I would like to pay tribute to the bravery they displayed in coming to court and giving evidence. That bravery and determination has seen Rolf Harris brought to justice and held to account.

"Each victim, unknown to the others, described a similar pattern of behaviour; that of a man acting without fear of the consequences.

"The prosecution of sexual offences is often difficult and complex, perhaps even more so when the allegations are from some years ago. We will continue to consider cases and wherever there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest, we will work with police and victims to build strong cases which can be put before a court.

"I hope today's verdict provides other victims with the courage and confidence to come forward no matter who is alleged to have carried out the abuse and when."

Harris walked slowly from the building this afternoon, with an emotional Alwen and Bindi on either side, and also accompanied by his niece Jenny who has attended every day of the trial.

The family was flanked by three security guards as they faced a throng of international media.

Harris remained silent in the face of continuous questions, cutting a dejected and downbeat figure.

The group was ushered into a waiting Audi with blacked out windows, with photographers crowding around the car. Earlier, PR heavyweights Bell Pottinger said Harris will not be commenting on the verdicts, either here or in Australia.

Rolf Harris case profile

When news of Rolf Harris's arrest broke, a collective gasp swept across the nation.

This was not just a famous face, this was one of the best-loved celebrities of past and present - a true family favourite.

Born in 1930, Harris grew up in Perth suburb Bassendean and went on to carve himself a 60-year career that saw him achieve success as an artist, musician and TV personality, with a list of honours to match.

As a teenager and young adult, he became a champion swimmer, and in 1946 was the Australian Junior 110 yards Backstroke Champion.

Struck down by a mysterious illness that left him paralysed for several weeks, Harris said it was this that prompted him to take the leap and travel to England to pursue a career in art.

"I thought that if I were to continue teaching I would be a weekend painter, which is like a weekend driver, you never get any better than you were the previous weekend," he told jurors at his trial.

That was in 1952, and after a few failed attempts at art school, Harris managed to get himself a slot on a BBC show, despite his first audition being a self-confessed "disaster".

Also a keen musician, he started by entertaining at the Down Under club, a haven for ex-pat Australians and New Zealanders, playing his piano accordion.

His song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, became a hit in Australia, the UK and the United States in the 1960s.

Over the following years, Harris's musical career was to grow and grow, and he became well-known for his use of instruments, from the didgeridoo to his famous "wobble-board".

The entertainer released comedic song Jake the Peg in the 1960s, but his biggest hit was in 1969 with Two Little Boys, originally written in 1902.

The hit became the Christmas Number One in the UK and remained at the top of the charts for six weeks, selling more than a million copies.

Harris went on to perform his own versions of several hit songs, including Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven.

He performed at Glastonbury for the first time in 1993, going on to appear a number of times, including a spot on its world-famous Pyramid Stage in 2010.

Despite his musical success, Harris's art career was not forgotten. His work was exhibited in many places, and in 2005 he had the rare privilege of painting a portrait of the Queen to mark her 80th birthday.

One of the best-known names in showbiz, the boy from Bassendean's celebrity extended beyond art and music, as he became a TV personality and all-round household name.

His catchphrases were known worldwide, from "Can you tell what it is yet?" accompanying his painting stints, and his emotional references to "the poor little blighter" as he hosted TV programme Animal Hospital, based at a British veterinary practice.

Harris appeared on This is Your Life on two occasions, and in 1989 featured in a child abuse prevention video called Kids Can Say No.

In November 2011 he appeared in an episode of Piers Morgan's Life Stories, where he described what he called the darkest periods of his life, revealing that he had suffered deeply from depression and describing his regret over missing key events in daughter Bindi's life.

It was this less jovial side of Rolf Harris that his daughter alluded to when she described him during her evidence.

"Dad didn't really take much notice of me or anybody at home," she told jurors.

"I think when he is out in the world he wants to give everyone his time and everyone is new and he can tell new jokes and new everything. But when he's at home he is very much switched off, very quiet, quite often working, making something."

Despite home relationships appearing to be somewhat strained, to the rest of the world Harris has always been a fond favourite.

With an MBE, OBE and CBE under his belt, as well as a fellowship from Bafta, he was loved nationwide.

And in a nod to his standing as a British favourite, the veteran entertainer starred in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace in June 2012.

But just months later, the career he spent years building was thrown into disarray as he became one of the names linked to the now well-known Operation Yewtree.

He denied anything unlawful, with friends and family jumping to the entertainer's defence, insisting there was nothing sinister about the "cuddly" star's behaviour around women.

But the 84-year-old was forced to admit that he had a "darker side" as he confessed to not one, but two affairs - one with one of his daughter's friends - and even admitted to finding the girl attractive when she was just 13.

With the details of his private life laid bare for the world to see, it is clear that no matter what the outcome of his trial was, the nation's view of Rolf Harris would never have been quite the same again.

Further reading

Rolf Harris will be stripped of BAFTA Fellowship and could lose CBE from Queen 

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