By Alice Ritchie, AFP
LONDON–Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris, a household name in Britain and Australia for decades, was jailed Friday for five years and nine months for a string of sexual assaults against girls. The Australian-born television star, artist and songwriter, 84, was found guilty earlier this week of indecently assaulting four victims between 1969 and 1986, including the childhood best friend of his daughter Bindi. “You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all,” judge Nigel Sweeney told Harris as he handed down his sentence at London’s Southwark Crown Court. “Your reputation lies in ruins, you have been stripped of your honors, but you have no one to blame but yourself.” Harris was the second person to be convicted under a wide-ranging police investigation set up in the wake of revelations that Jimmy Savile, a fellow major BBC star, was a prolific abuser. Wearing a multicolored tie, grey suit and white shirt, Harris showed no emotion as he heard the sentence, even if the judge said he should only serve half of it in jail. Earlier, the court heard statements from some of the entertainer’s victims, including his daughter’s friend, who suffered from years of abuse. “The attacks that happened have made me feel dirty, grubby and disgusting. The whole sordid saga has traumatized me,” she said in the statement read out by a lawyer. Another written by a woman who was only eight when Harris molested her as she sought his autograph in 1969 said that in those few moments, her “childhood innocence was gone.” A third victim, whose bottom Harris squeezed as a 16-year-old girl in 1978, said that he had “treated me like a toy.” Attack while Daughter Slept
She told ITV television: “It’s an unbelievable feeling of a loss of trust and a loss of innocence. That someone can do that to you and have a laugh and smile and joke with everyone as he’s doing it.” The entertainer’s conviction on Monday caused widespread shock and soul-searching in Britain, where his television programs were watched by millions of children, and his homeland of Australia. His stature was once so great that he was made a CBE in 2006 — one step below a knighthood — and even painted Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait to mark her 80th birthday. There was also revulsion and dismay at his exposure in Australia, the country he left at the age of 22 but which treated him as a national hero.
The judge described in grim detail the 12 counts against Harris, who he said had taken advantage of the trust placed in him as a celebrity and as a father. Seven of the counts related to Bindi’s friend, including one incident when she was 15 where he seriously sexually assaulted her while his daughter slept in the adjacent bed. Harris had admitted having a sexual relationship with the woman, but denied it began when she was underage. Bindi was in court to support her father as he went down although her frail mother, Alwen, who had been by her husband’s side for much of the trial, was absent.