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Harris defence 'tailor-made ruses'

Rolf Harris targeted young fans whose "penalty" for their admiration was to suffer sexual assault at the hands of the star, a court has heard.

The veteran entertainer singled out girls who were mesmerised and beguiled by his fame and treated them as sexual objects that he could touch when he felt like it, Southwark Crown Court was told today.

In her closing speech to Harris's trial for a series of indecent assaults, prosecutor Sasha Wass QC branded the artist an "arrogant and brazen" man who thought he was untouchable.

She told the jury of six men and six women: "The girls who Mr Harris touched were innocent, young, admiring fans of his.

"He targeted fans who were mesmerised by his fame and talents. He was a children's entertainer and they were beguiled by his singing and painting.

"And the penalty of their admiration was to suffer sexual assault."

Harris faces 12 counts of indecent assault on four different alleged victims - all of which he denies.

Ms Wass said that evidence given by the four women, as well as claims by other witnesses to whom charges do not relate, showed that the star was a "sinister pervert who had a demon lurking beneath the charming exterior".

She said: "The evidence paints a picture of a man who believed he was untouchable because he was so famous. It paints a picture of a man who was arrogant and brazen and treated women and young girls as sexual objects to be groped and mauled as he felt like it."

The prosecutor urged jurors to decide the case on the evidence against the 84-year-old TV favourite, not on who he is.

She said: "In the courts of England and Wales all men are equal before the law.

"You can't buy your way out of a criminal charge, you can't bully your way out of a criminal charge, and you certainly can't sing your way out of a criminal charge."

Ms Wass said that allegations made by a friend of Harris's daughter had sparked an investigation into the "seemingly untouchable, world-famous children's entertainer".

She said: "Thereafter police investigations uncovered more and more women who felt able to come forward and describe what Rolf Harris had done to them when they were young and vulnerable and impressionable.

"Each woman, unknown to the others, describes a similar pattern of deviant sexual behaviour.

"The chances of any of them making up such similar accusations in the absence of knowing each other is absurd."

She added: "Rolf Harris may be a famous personality with a glittering career spreading over 60 years but before these courts he must answer the charges on the evidence like any other defendant.

"His celebrity status must neither benefit nor bias your deliberations, you will decide the case on the evidence against Mr Harris, not on the basis of who he is."

Ms Wass dismissed suggestions that Operation Yewtree - the investigation sparked by revelations about Jimmy Savile - was a "celebrity witch-hunt", or claims by observers that some alleged behaviour by celebrities was deemed acceptable at the time.

Of the accusations levelled at Harris, she said: "Neither Mr Harris's fame, old age nor talent can provide an excuse for this behaviour.

"The reason that the victims in this case did not feel able to report their experiences earlier is because they were intimidated by the prospect of their word going against that of the great Rolf Harris."

Ms Wass described the evidence given by the 10 witnesses who do not relate to the charges in the case, as building up a picture of Harris.

Comparing the evidence to one of Harris's own paintings, she said: "Each stroke can be a little bit vague or unclear but taken together you can identify what is happening."

She said each of the witnesses had painted a "portrait", showing the "Mr Hyde concealed behind Rolf Harris's Dr Jekyll who was his public profile".

Ms Wass dismissed Harris's explanations or denials for the various allegations made by witnesses "ruses" and "red herrings".

She said: "These are all very similar ruses tailor-made by Mr Harris to rebut each witness's testimony.

"And once you recognise the pattern these diversionary tactics can be dismissed rapidly."

Ms Wass accused Harris - whose wife Alwen and daughter Bindi sat in the public gallery among his supporters - of "ducking and diving" when he was forced to explain why he had denied being in Cambridge in the 1970s, despite appearing on a gameshow at the time.

During the trial, Harris claimed he had not been to Cambridge - the city where one of his alleged assaults took place during the filming of a celebrity game show, originally believed to be It's A Celebrity Knock Out - until four years ago, but footage then emerged of the star taking part in the similar programme Star Games.

Ms Wass said Harris had tried several different excuses for why he had claimed he had not been there, but told the jury: "Such detailed excuses are often the stuff of lies and that is what this late, but invaluable emergence of the television recording has cemented into place for us that Mr Harris is a determined, purposeful, liar.

"He deliberately lied to you when he said he had not been to Cambridge until four years ago," she said, and asked jurors whether they could believe his denials that he had been to a community centre in Portsmouth where another alleged assault is said to have taken place.

Ms Wass described the evidence by a friend of Harris's daughter Bindi - to whom seven of the charges relate - who claims he assaulted her a string of times from the age of 13 until her late 20s.

The prosecutor said: "(The alleged victim), unlike all of the witnesses in this case, was not the victim of a one-off opportunistic sexual assault.

"She was targeted, groomed and dehumanised by Mr Harris over a period of 16 years.

"Her life was affected dramatically by what he did to her." Ms Wass said the woman - whom Harris has admitted having a sexual relationship with, but says it began when she was 18 - had appeared a "damaged and emotionally dead creature" when she appeared in the witness box.

"(Her) accounts of being sexually targeted and groomed by Rolf Harris explain the transition from a carefree child to that emotionally scarred adult."

Ms Wass said Harris had made a series of attempts to "distract" the jury from the charges by providing explanations for why certain alleged assaults were not physically possible, which he had done for this specific alleged victim as well.

Describing the first alleged assault, said to have taken place in a hotel room while on holiday in Hawaii, Ms Wass said: "She was completely isolated and totally vulnerable.

"Mr Harris would have represented an adult father figure when she was away from home.

"This first assault was a critical part of the grooming process. Mr Harris was testing his luck with (the alleged victim).

"Would she create a fuss? Would she tell Bindi? Or would she be compliant?"

Ms Wass added: "From that moment (the alleged victim) was lost because the longer a secret is kept the more difficult it is to complain later and the more easy it is for someone else to suggest 'it takes two to tango'."

The prosecutor said Harris had admitted finding the girl sexually attractive during the holiday, after the entertainer earlier admitted he had sexually admired the teenager as she wore her bikini.

She said the girl was a "sitting target" on the holiday, with Harris able to assault her whenever he liked.

Ms Wass described how the abuse allegedly continued back in the UK, where Harris is said to have assaulted the girl on several occasions.

She said that in a letter to the woman's father, Harris had accidentally exposed the true nature of his relationship with the girl when he referred to the unconditional love given by animals to their owners and was "looking for the acceptance he might have got from a pet".

She said: "From (the alleged victim's) perspective her idyllic childhood had come to an end and had been transformed into a nightmare of isolation and guilt."

The prosecutor accused Harris's defence team of "time shifting" to try to convince the jury that nothing had happened between him and the girl when she was under 16.

Dismissing Harris's suggestion that the relationship was consensual as "preposterous", she said the girl was "torn between her desperation to see her best friend and the horror of having to tolerate the sexual abuse from her best friend's father".

Ms Wass said that evidence from people around the woman showed they had noticed a change in her, and said those around her recognised that "something was very wrong".

Of Harris's suggestions that the girl had encouraged him when he took her a cup of tea, Ms Wass said: "If you can put this Mills and Boon scenario into context - in 1983 Mr Harris was 53, he had known (the alleged victim) since the age of two.

"He said she had never shown any sexual interest in him until that point and then this suddenly blew up out of nowhere.

"Such passions can emerge, people can suddenly become infatuated with each other and can become overwhelmed with desire."

But she refuted suggestions by Harris that the relationship had sprung from love and friendship, saying it was "eight sexual encounters which involved neither love, friendship, passion nor feeling".

Ms Wass said there were no conversations or interaction between the pair, telling jurors: "He just used her for his sexual gratification like she was a blow-up doll."

She said the alleged victim had described "perfunctory sexual encounters" with Harris, including one occasion said to have happened in his car which Ms Wass said involved the woman performing "clinically", "like a prostitute".

"This was not a consensual relationship," Ms Wass said. "This was what emerged at the end of an abusive relationship which began when (she) was 13," adding that the girl had been "psychologically destroyed and made to perform like a pet".


From Belfast Telegraph