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I felt disgusted and dirty after assault by predator Harris, says Belfast woman

Victim speaks out on day star is convicted

By Rebecca Black

A Belfast woman has spoken of her disgust after revealing she was assaulted by Rolf Harris as the world famous entertainer was convicted of 12 sex charges.

Journalist Letitia Fitzpatrick (52) had just interviewed Harris at Shankill Leisure Centre in June 1991 when he suddenly lunged at her, thrusting his tongue into her mouth.

He had been taking part in an art class with local children.

She bravely spoke to police to help secure his conviction after she heard allegations that he had also abused children.

Ms Fitzpatrick described the attack as sudden, and revealed how disgusted and dirty she had felt afterwards.

Harris (84) was convicted yesterday at Southwark Crown Court of a dozen sex charges involving four 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's portrait.

The downfall of an entertainer who was part of millions of British childhoods came 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 its 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 had received 28 calls relating to Harris to date involving 13 people who claimed they fell prey to the performer.

Harris remained impassive as the forewoman of the jury 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 announced.

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.

Harris made no comment as he walked from court flanked by his wife, daughter and niece.

'He grabbed my face and forced his tongue into my mouth'

I was working as a BBC journalist in 1991 and I went to the Shankill Leisure Centre in west Belfast to do a story for TV about Rolf Harris doing artwork with local children.

I did the story, and we had a pleasant chat.

I asked him if he had children, he told me he had a grown-up daughter, and I said I had a son and daughter, aged two and one.

We went outside and children were playing around us. He was standing there with me, and my cameraman went to the crew car to pack up his gear.

I was saying thank you for the interview, when suddenly he grabbed my face with both hands pulling me towards him, and forced his tongue into my mouth. Then he turned on his heel and walked away as if nothing had happened.

It only lasted a few seconds but I was totally shocked. I felt disgusted and dirty. I thought it was really perverted, but I didn't think of it as a sexual assault, which it was.

I went back to the BBC and I didn't mention it to anyone. I wanted to forget about it, though I did tell my sister at the time.

After Jimmy Savile died and news of his abuse became public, I was talking to friends, and some were sceptical about victims coming forward after so many years. I told them what happened to me with Rolf Harris. Then he was charged, and I looked up sexual assault on the police website, and realised that what happened to me was a criminal offence.

I contacted the police because I wanted to help any other woman who had a case against Rolf Harris. I gave a statement to the police who passed it on to Operation Yewtree. I was told I might be called as a witness of his bad character during his trial. In the end I wasn't.

The reason I was prepared to face being a witness, and have spoken out now, waiving my right to anonymity, is because I feel very strongly that those women, who were children when they were sexually assaulted by a predatory paedophile, should be supported.

They were incredibly brave to come forward. Rolf Harris seems to have thought that his fame and his image as a family entertainer would protect him. I'm relieved that the jury found him guilty.

Some of his behaviour in court was totally bizarre, when he sang and performed. It must have been harrowing for his victims to see that.

The effects of sexual abuse, especially on children, cast a long, dark shadow.

Justice needs to be done, no matter how long it takes.

Belfast Telegraph


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