I watched Rolf Harris in court, a small suitcase beside him – he clearly didn’t expect a long sentence
• 4h ago
There is one courtroom memory that I can never erase, no matter how hard I try, and it is of Rolf Harris on the day he was jailed for sexually assaulting four young girls.
Here was a man who had ingratiated himself into British life to such an extent that he was asked to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth for her 80th birthday.
A performer who had sung with The Beatles, reached Number One in the 1969 Christmas charts, who had a stellar TV career. And now he was minutes away from being locked up as a predatory monster who had preyed on girls for decades.
I’d covered every twist of the trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court for Sky News and he looked an utterly pathetic sight in the dock that day in July 2014.
I was sitting directly behind the glass-walled dock and could see what Harris had neatly tucked under his chair – a small candy-striped suitcase.
Judge Sweeney jailed him for five years and nine months. From the size of the case he had brought, it was clear to me that Harris didn’t expect to be going to prison for too long.
He remained as arrogant and as expressionless during the sentencing as he had throughout the entire case. Devoid of emotion. Cold. Caught. And now, caged.
If he was bothered about going to jail as a convicted paedophile, he didn’t show it.
Harris had arrived for his sentencing that morning by boat, from his home on the River Thames in the Berkshire village of Bray. Camera crews had been waiting outside the property to film his departure, thinking he would be driven to London, so they were caught unaware by his choice of transport.
Off he sailed up the Thames, towards the English capital, to face justice for 12 indecent assaults, spanning from 1968 to 1985. Nobody travels by the river in London, it’s pretty much unheard of. I saw it as yet another “two fingers” to everyone. The “great” Rolf Harris may be going to prison, but he’s going his way.
Every other day of the trial, the Australian entertainer had arrived by chauffeur-driven car.
Some defendants will give a cursory nod to the press pack each day, or manage a polite “good morning”.
Harris always looked cornered and disinterested, the same stance he took in court. The evidence was overwhelmingly against him and he must have known that his sick, perverted time was up.
The trial, and in particular the evidence, had repulsed me. I’d covered countless cases over the years, but there was something deeply disturbing about Harris and how he had used his celebrity and fame to attack young girls.
A seven-year-old girl had been molested by him in the 1970s after she had asked for an autograph. The bulk of the offences were against his daughter’s former best friend, who he had begun abusing at the age of 13, having first befriended her parents. Her life descended into chaos and alcoholism as a result of his vile abuse.
Some defendants walk around a court precinct. The word I would use to describe Harris’ movement is slither. And he was a big, towering presence. I shuddered at the thought of him targeting a primary school girl, or in fact, any girl.
A handful of friends/hangers-on attended each day of the trial and they would sit with Harris in the grotty canteen on the first floor of Southwark Crown Court, all gazing at him adoringly.
It was revolting. I often wondered what a celebrity had to be accused of for their friends to finally disown them.
Harris served three years of that sentence, but for his victims it was a life sentence.
Talk to people who work in television and you will hear shocking stories about Harris and his disgusting behaviour over many years, stuff that hasn’t come out and probably never will now. It’s hard to believe what he did and how long he got away with it for.
I’ll never be able to erase the memory of him in his grey suit and multi-coloured tie, staring at the floor as it dawned on him that he was heading to prison.
That stare…that ice-cold look. From the palace to the prison, it was one of the greatest falls in British history. And Rolf Harris deserved all of it and more.