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Harris 'humiliated' by sex trial

Rolf Harris has been punished for past infidelity with "public humiliation" in a prosecution that fails to meet the standard of criminal proof, a jury has heard.

Defence barrister Simon Ray, who stepped in to give the closing speech because Harris's QC Sonia Woodley is ill, told jurors: "Making allegations loudly and forcefully does not make them true.

"You may think that a prosecutor who was more confident of the evidence would not have had to resort to name-calling of the defendant.

"The reality is that when you take a cold hard look at the prosecution case, there are problems that cannot be pushed aside."

He said those problems created "unavoidable doubt" over the truth of the claims.

"The prosecution has to prove it and they have to prove it so that you are sure, and that's a high standard. A standard that when you analyse the evidence, which is all that any of us can do, the prosecution has not met."

Harris, standing trial at London's Southwark Crown Court, is accused of 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, all of which he denies. Mr Ray said the time lapse since the claims is "a serious disadvantage" for the entertainer.

"The passage of time, which is a gap of up to 45 years, ... is a serious disadvantage to the defendant, and that would be true whether he was rich or poor, famous or unknown."

Mr Ray told the jury of six men and six women that Harris faced an impossible situation trying to remember details from so long ago.

"Mr Harris can't really win. If he fails to remember things, any incorrect assertions by him are damned as deliberate lies. If he does remember details and tries to say so, again that's dismissed."

During the trial, the court has heard details of two extra-marital affairs Harris was involved in, including one with an alleged victim.

Mr Ray said: "He has been punished for his infidelity by, effectively, public humiliation."

Jurors have been told by prosecutor Sasha Wass QC that Harris had "a dark side" to his personality.

Mr Ray said: "Everyone has a private life, everyone has a side to their personality that they only reveal to those that know them intimately, and, to be honest, maybe not anyone."

Mr Ray told the court: "You have heard that he has done things in his 84 years that he is ashamed of or regrets.

"Destroying Mr Harris's good name seems to have been essential to the prosecution case."

He said the jury must assess whether Harris can be viewed as "a sinister pervert".

The first count on the indictment concerns an allegation by a woman who claims Harris groped her at an event near Portsmouth between 1968 and 1970.

Mr Ray said: "The reality is that there is no evidence from any independent source that the event that (the alleged victim) described took place."

The alleged victim in the second count claims that Harris touched her bottom when she was waitressing at a celebrity event in Cambridge in 1975 - although it was later suggested that this could have occurred in 1978.

Mr Ray told the jury: "Was she 13 or was she 16? Those three years for a teenager are a real and significant difference and not one that you would get wrong."

Harris told the jury that he had not visited the city until 2010, but was later forced to admit that he had appeared in an episode of Star Games filmed there in 1978.

This was branded by the prosecution a deliberate lie, but Mr Ray said Harris would never have been foolish enough to lie if he had remembered the show.

"No defendant would be that stupid," jurors were told.

"Precisely because that opens him up to the sort of criticisms that he has had to face."

Mr Ray then turned to the third alleged victim, who claimed Harris abused her from the age of 13.

The artist denies this, and says they had a consensual adult relationship.

The barrister said: "It's admitted that Mr Harris had a sexual relationship with (the woman).

"As you know it is something that he regrets and feels ashamed of, and you may well reach the conclusion that he did not treat her with enough regard for her feelings."

The woman told her parents about the alleged abuse when they caught her drinking at their Norfolk home.

Mr Ray said: "She needed it to be something that for which no one could blame her at all, she could only receive sympathy.

"You may think that was the moment she decided to accuse Rolf Harris."

He told the jury that past comments that Harris had made about her figure as a girl had then "taken on a sinister complexion beyond recognition".

When confronted by the woman's brother, the jury has already heard that it is claimed Harris said "it takes two to tango".

The barrister went on: "You may think that 'it takes two to tango' is exactly what someone might say if they were under pressure and receiving verbal abuse about what they were sure was a consenting adult relationship.

"It would be an extraordinary thing to say if you were talking about child abuse."

He told the jury that it was "dangerous and unreliable" to attribute her alcoholism in her 20s to the defendant.

Mr Ray added: "Mr Harris is not the first man and he won't be the last to lose perspective and rational thought in the face of flattering attention."

He questioned why the alleged victim, a friend of Harris's daughter Bindi, had visited the defendant, for example when he was appearing in a pantomime, and later invited him to visit her.

"(The woman) returned to Bray time and time again. It appears that she went there even when Bindi was not there.

"Why on earth would she do that if she had been and was being abused? Why would she go and visit the defendant in pantomime?

"However polite you are, surely self-preservation comes first."

Mr Ray said rather than the alleged victim being groomed, it was "a sporadic, illicit, somewhat low-rent adult relationship that ended in embarrassment".

An email sent by Bindi to her father, in which she asked about his £11 million fortune, was introduced by the prosecution in what Mr Ray called "a cheap shot".

He said that whatever happened in the case would not affect Bindi getting her inheritance.

Turning to the final alleged victim, Tonya Lee, who has waived her right to anonymity, he said: "The defence do not suggest that the mere fact that Ms Lee sold her story to the press and engaged a PR agent means that she is not telling the truth.

"It is the ease with which she has lied in the past and had lied well and convincingly."

He said she had lied about having a car accident as a reason for not meeting police, and had not told officers she had spoken to the press.

Ms Lee's personal problems in later life had nothing to so with the defendant, he said.

Summarising the defence case, he told the court: "One thing is certain, Mr Harris' reputation has effectively been trashed and will never been the same again. It may be that your own childhood memories have been altered.

"But after all of that when you take a step back, have the prosecution come close to satisfying you so that you are sure he is guilty on any of this. You may conclude quite properly that they have fallen a long way short of that and ultimately that is the only decision that counts."

The jury was sent home until tomorrow.


From Belfast Telegraph