Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris saw his decades in the spotlight end in disgrace yesterday as he was found guilty of a string of indecent assaults.
The 84-year-old, once a much-loved artist and musician, was unanimously convicted at Southwark Crown Court of 12 sex charges involving four women, most while they were underage.
His army of supporters, including suited security guards and representatives from PR giant Bell Pottinger who attended every day of the eight-week trial, could do nothing to change the verdict of the jury of six men and six women, who had deliberated for eight days.
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.
But the downfall of an entertainer who was part of millions of British childhoods came yesterday, as Harris became the biggest scalp claimed by detectives from high profile sex crime investigation Operation Yewtree, their second conviction after PR guru Max Clifford.
Dozens more alleged victims have come forward during the trial, including several in Australia, and Scotland Yard has been in touch with their 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 has received 28 calls relating to Harris to date, involving 13 people who claim they fell prey to the performer.
Harris, who will be stripped of his Bafta and could face losing his prestigious CBE, remained impassive as the forewoman delivered the damning verdicts.
He was convicted of groping one woman when she was seven or eight, another two as teenagers and a catalogue of abuse against his daughter’s then best friend.
During the trial, the court heard from six other women who claim they were groped by Harris while abroad.
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 sealed.
Bindi was later seen crying in a waiting area outside the court, embracing her father’s publicist.
The performer was released on bail until Friday when he will be sentenced and could face jail.
Mr Justice Sweeney warned the octogenarian: “In reality given the conviction on all 12 counts it is inevitable that the type of sentence that is uppermost in the court’s mind is a custodial sentence and he must understand that.”
After the verdicts, Harris walked slowly away from the building, with an emotional Alwen and Bindi by his side. The family was flanked by three security guards as they faced a throng of international media.
The former family favourite remained silent in the face of continuous questions, cutting a dejected and downbeat figure.
Detective chief inspector Mick Orchard said: “Rolf Harris has habitually denied any wrong doing, forcing his victims to recount their ordeal in public.
“He committed many offences in plain sight of people as he thought his celebrity status placed him above the law.
“I want to thank the women who came forward for their bravery, I hope today’s guilty verdict will give them closure and help them to begin to move on with their lives.
“Today’s case and verdict once again shows that we will always listen to, and investigate allegations regardless of the timeframe or those involved.”
Jenny Hopkins, deputy chief crown prosecutor for the CPS in London, called Harris “a man acting without fear of the consequences”.
She said: “Rolf Harris used his status and position as a world famous children’s entertainer to sexually assault young girls over a period spanning 18 years.
“The victims in this case have suffered in silence for many years and have only recently found the courage to come forward. I would like to pay tribute to the bravery they displayed in coming to court and giving evidence. That bravery and determination has seen Rolf Harris brought to justice and held to account.
“Each victim, unknown to the others, described a similar pattern of behaviour; that of a man acting without fear of the consequences.
“The prosecution of sexual offences is often difficult and complex, perhaps even more so when the allegations are from some years ago. We will continue to consider cases and wherever there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest, we will work with police and victims to build strong cases which can be put before a court.
“I hope today’s verdict provides other victims with the courage and confidence to come forward no matter who is alleged to have carried out the abuse and when.”
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