Rolf Harris, a former entertainer and one of the UK’s most popular TV stars, died at the age of 93 after a long illness. Initially a national treasure who arrived in the UK from Australia in 1953, he was later imprisoned for grooming and assaulting young women. Harris was accused of committing sexual assaults on young girls, including a childhood friend of his daughter and an autograph hunter. He denied all the allegations but was convicted of a dozen historical indecent assaults against four girls, four charges of producing indecent child images, and was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison in 2014. The judge stated that Harris had taken advantage of his celebrity status and showed no remorse. The conviction ruined his reputation and career.
Harris had several of his own TV series and guest-starred on many others from the 1960s onwards. He was a singer and had a string of hits, including “Jake the Peg,” “Two Little Boys,” and “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” Harris also appeared several times at Glastonbury Festival. He was awarded many honours, including MBE, OBE, and CBE, a BAFTA fellowship, and honorary university doctorates, all of which were revoked after his conviction. Queen Elizabeth II sat for him for an 80th birthday portrait, which was hung in Buckingham Palace.
Leading publicist Mark Borkowski said that people would remember Harris as an entertainer, unique, who lived in the heart of the nation and was good at reinventing himself, but would be remembered for his crimes. Harris was among a dozen celebrities arrested during Operation Yewtree, one of a series of police investigations into historical sex abuse allegations against high-profile figures, including BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, a prolific sex offender exposed only after his death.
Victims and Police Involvement
At the start of his trial, the prosecutor described Harris as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character with a hidden dark side to his personality. A childhood friend of his daughter Bindi was his main victim, telling the jury he had groomed and indecently assaulted her repeatedly between the ages of 13 and 19, once when his daughter was asleep in the same room. She called the police about Harris after the wide publicity surrounding Savile’s exposure, though there was no connection between the two men’s crimes.
Mike Hames, former head of the Metropolitan Police’s paedophile squad, said that children loved Harris, and parents were willing to leave their children with him because they believed they were safe. Australian Tonya Lee, who waived her right to anonymity, said Harris abused her three times on one day when she was 15 and on a theatre group trip to the UK. She later said she contemplated taking her own life because of the abuse. Other victims told the court that he touched or groped them, sometimes at public events or charity performances. Jurors were also told of indecent assaults on women in Australia, New Zealand, and Malta, although Harris wasn’t charged with overseas crimes.
Peter Watt of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said that the charity had helped police build the case against Harris after 28 calls to its helpline, including 13 women who said he had abused them. Mr Watt said after Harris’s conviction that his reckless and brazen sexual offending, sometimes in public places, bizarrely within sight of people he knew, speaks volumes about just how untouchable he thought he was.
In 2015, Harris was stripped of his CBE and honours in his native Australia. In 2017, while he was still in jail, he was put on trial a second time over four allegations of indecent assault on three teenage girls. He denied the charges and was found not guilty after the jury failed to agree verdicts. In a statement read out by his lawyer, Harris said that he felt no sense of victory, only relief. He was 87 years old, his wife was in ill health, and they simply wanted to spend their remaining time together in peace. Harris was freed from jail halfway through his second trial after serving three years. One of his convictions was overturned on appeal. He spent the rest of his days living reclusively with his sculptor wife Alwen, who had stood by him, at the couple’s Thames riverside home in Berkshire.