Friday, May 9, 2014
Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris escaped punishment for a string of alleged indecent assaults, including on a woman from a Norfolk village, because he was “too famous”, a jury has heard.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass QC told London’s Southwark Crown Court that the 84-year-old is “not merely a celebrity but a national popular figure” who has widespread appeal, especially as a children’s entertainer.
She said of his alleged victims: “They were overawed at meeting Rolf Harris. Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable.”
Harris faces a total of 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, all of which he denies.
Opening the case to a packed courtroom, Ms Wass outlined allegations made by one of the victims, who is the subject of seven of the 12 counts that Harris faces.
Here are extracts of a letter written by Rolf Harris to the Norfolk-based father of one of his alleged victims in March 1997.
“Please forgive me for not writing sooner. You said in your letter to me that you never wanted to see me or hear from me again, but now (the alleged victim) says it’s all right to write to you.
“Since that trip up to Norfolk, I have been in a state of abject self loathing. How we delude ourselves.
“I fondly imagined that everything that had taken place had progressed from a feeling of love and friendship - there was no rape, no physical forcing, brutality or beating that took place.
“When I came to Norfolk, (the alleged victim) told me that she had always been terrified of me and went along with everything that I did out of fear of me.
“I said ‘Why did you never just say no?’. And (the alleged victim) said how could she say no to the great television star Rolf Harris.
“Until she told me that, I had no idea that she was scared of me.”
“If there is any way that I could atone for what I have done I would willingly do it. If there is a way I can start to help (the alleged victim) to heal herself, I would willingly do it.
“With your permission I’ll phone you in a week to talk to you. If you hang up, I will understand, but I would like to talk to you to apologise for betraying your trust and for unwittingly so harming your darling (the alleged victim).
“I know that what I did was wrong but we are, all of us, fallible and oh how I deluded myself. Please forgive me, love Rolf.
“Please forgive me for what must have been the most insensitive thing in your eyes - sending the book for Christmas. Alwen knows nothing about all this - at the time - and rather than tell her I signed the book and wrote the platitudes with sinking heart.
Ms Wass said the girl was groomed like “a young puppy who had been trained to obey”.”
The woman eventually consented to sexual activity with Harris because she had been “groomed like a pet”, it is claimed.
Harris admits having a consensual affair with the woman, and wrote a letter to her father, in Norfolk, expressing his regret.
Ms Wass said: “It was a confess and avoid letter. By that I mean that Mr Harris admits that he had a sexual relationship with (the woman), but without admitting that it had taken place when she was under-age. Rather like when President Clinton admitted that he had smoked cannabis but said that he didn’t inhale.”
The alleged victim claims she was first abused by Harris while on holiday in Hawaii when she was 13.
The court heard that, after that first incident, the girl was “stunned” and did nothing to stop Harris, whom she had always been in awe of, and decided to pretend nothing had happened.
It is alleged that the abuse went on for a number of years, and that the girl’s parents trusted Harris, so did not suspect him.
Harris would abuse her in her own home as well as his, the court heard, and even in the presence of other people.
It is claimed that eventually the woman consented to Harris’s demands, but said she was “ashamed and disgusted with herself”. Ms Wass said this showed that “the grooming process had been completed”.
The court heard that the alleged victim confided in a friend at school that she had been abused by Harris, who she described as a “dirty old man” and that it had started when she was 13.
Around that time, the woman finally revealed to her family that Harris had abused her.
She wrote to the entertainer telling him she had told her parents, prompting him to drive to their house in Norfolk to see her while they were out.
While there the woman told him he had “ruined her life” and was disgusted by what he had done, then made him walk around the unnamed village with her while berating him.
The court heard that the alleged victim’s disclosure prompted her father to write to Harris.
In a reply, thought to have been sent in March 1997, the artist confessed to having a sexual relationship with the woman, but said it had stemmed from “love and friendship” and denied it started when she was 13.
In the letter, he described being in a state of “self loathing” and feeling “sickened” by himself for the misery he had caused her.
“You can’t go back and change things that you have done in this life - I wish to god I could,” he wrote.
He apologised to the man for betraying his trust and added: “I know that what I did was wrong but we are, all of us, fallible and oh how I deluded myself. Please forgive me, love Rolf.”
Later the alleged victim told her GP, a counsellor and a psychologist about her abuse claims.
Ms Wass told the court: “She made these revelations, not in order to get money or attention or revenge, but she did it because she wanted to get her life back together.
“(The woman) did not tell the police about what Rolf Harris had done to her for many, many years. She made it plain to those looking after her that she did not have the strength to do so. She thought the prospect of going to court would actually kill her.”
The alleged victim said that claims about Jimmy Savile made her reconsider her position, and she reported the alleged abuse to police in November 2012.
The 84-year-old is accused of 12 counts of indecent assault on four alleged victims, the youngest of whom was seven or eight and the oldest 19, between 1968 and 1986, which he denies.
Harris arrived at London’s Southwark Crown Court today, accompanied by his wife Alwen and other family members, wearing a grey suit.
The trial continues.