Britain and especially England once had the finest legal system in the world. Along with its language, the lingua franca of the known universe, this is a system that has been exported to the four corners of the Earth, and which is still used in large part by its former colonies including the United States (which has retained the grand jury), India and Malaysia (both of which have abandoned the jury system).
Rolf Harris arriving at court supported by his wife of more than fifty years and his daughter Bindi.
The conviction of Rolf Harris on June 30 and his subsequent gaoling for nearly 6 years has been hailed almost as a triumph for the powers of law and order over the forces of darkness, a shattering of the widely held belief that certain celebrities and others are so powerful that they can get away with anything short of murder – and if you credit some people, they can get away with even that.
Rolf Harris had been a well-known figure on our TV screens for 6 decades, a universally avuncular family entertainer, a national institution in two hemispheres, and the sort of bloke no one would ever say a bad word against. Now, suddenly, he is more reviled than Gary Glitter. If all the allegations proven against him at Southwark Crown Court are true, then certainly the public worldwide and especially in the UK and Australia have been deceived big time. However, a closer look at the way the case was conducted and presented to both the jury and the public should give everyone cause for concern that this is an enormous miscarriage of justice.
The conviction of Rolf Harris was the culmination of Operation Yewtree, which has already seen the conviction and gaoling of Max Clifford on similar dubious evidence. After the former’s conviction, a slew of women are said to have come forward in the UK and Australia making similar claims against him. For many people this will be further confirmation of his guilt, after all, can all these women be liars? Anyone who needs to ask that question doesn’t know anything about women, and knows even less about human nature.
This case was principally about his relationship with a young woman who for many years was the best friend of his only child, Bindi. Harris married his first and only wife Alwen in March 1958; few marriages last that long today, and on the face of it, his personal life was much the same as his professional life. We should all probably have realised this would not necessarily be so. If nothing else, someone as famous, handsome and charismatic attracts female admirers in droves. Many men in showbiz and of course music face the same temptations, and they don’t all say no.
Even without groupies and hangers-on, showbusiness marriages are notoriously unstable for both men and women. Harris has had at least one other mistress; his wife forgave him that, but it remains to be seen if she would have forgiven him for grooming a 13 year old, most likely she would have divorced him and taken him to the cleaners.
The big problem here though is that the friend of his daughter was underage. She has not been identified in these proceedings but her name will not be any secret in certain circles. She would claim they began a physical relationship when she was 13; he said it began when she was 18 and he was 53. That is a massive age gap, something most people would find borderline obscene. Whenever it started, this relationship went on for many years, but in 1997, years after it had ended, he sent a handwritten letter of apology to her father.
This letter was called a confession by the prosecution, but like so much of what the prosecution said in this case, that claim is not to be trusted. The bottom line is that if the alleged abuse of this girl had been the only thing on the indictment, the jury would have had to decide essentially between two versions of their relationship. Was this a case of grooming – to use that fashionable word – or was Harris telling the truth? Firstly, is this the sort of letter a paedophile would have written? To begin with it shows a sense of shame, which is not what one would expect if a fraction of the claims made about him were true. One would have expected a guilty Rolf Harris to either make a blanket denial or to attempt to buy off his accuser; the fact that he did neither suggests that although he realised what he had done was morally wrong, it was not legally wrong.
Secondly, although the difference in their ages was huge, situations like this are uncommon but far from unheard of. Bill Clinton is 27 years older than Monica Lewinsky, who was only 22 at the time of Monicagate (or whatever you want to call it). Although we can laugh at it now, this was a particularly sordid tale of oral sex in the Oval Office, the semen stained dress, an affair – though in no sense a love affair – that did no credit to either party, especially Clinton. Obviously as a serving President, husband and father he was not in a position to wine and dine her, but there is no suggestion that Miss Lewinsky was in any way pressured into doing what she did. It was a clear case of a woman becoming infatuated with a handsome, intelligent, charismatic and powerful older man.
Returning to the Rolf Harris/Miss X relationship, as a married man he should have resisted entering into it, as a significantly older man, he should not have allowed himself to be alone with her, but a totally innocent man who spurns the advances of any female, teenager or otherwise, can find himself in deep trouble, as more than a few teachers and doctors have discovered to their cost.
Another question that must be asked of a man who is said to have interfered sexually with a girl of 13, is what about his own daughter? Like Max Clifford, Harris was accused of abusing a girl of about the same age as his daughter. It is clear from the way the daughters of both men supported their fathers that this disgusting but necessary question has been answered.
One final word on this same subject; the reader is invited to contrast the media treatment of Rolf Harris with that of three other celebrities: wife-beater/convicted rapist Mike Tyson; a man who might just be classed as a paedophile, rock musician Bill Wyman, whose relationship with an underage girl caused relatively little outrage, and did not result in any kind of prosecution, even though she would go on to claim they first had sex while she was under 16. The third and arguably the worst is Roman Polanski, whose only mitigation might be that the horrific murder of his wife and the fact that for a while he was a suspect in that shocking crime might have affected his sanity.
After jumping bail in the US, Polanski has remained at liberty in Europe defended by the Hollywood glitterati including the daffy Whoopi Goldberg who said although he is wanted for rape, he had not committed “rape rape”.
Regarding Mike Tyson, from the day was convicted, all the boxing world could talk about was when will he return? Few cared for his victim, who had been raped and had the scars to prove it. Some claimed she was a gold digger, some said she asked for it, some didn’t care if she had been raped or not. Desiree Washington rather than Tyson himself became the but of cruel jokes. And when he did return, it was to be guided towards a mega-fight with Evander Holyfield, and another massive payday.
That may have been money talking, but it wasn’t all and only about money. Tyson was still in his prime; Rolf Harris is of an age when most men who are still alive and have all their faculties are enjoying their retirement. What use is he now to anyone?
Rolf Harris has been portrayed as both powerful and of course cunning, but what power did he have exactly? He was an artist and an entertainer; unlike Jimmy Savile he neither had nor sought the ear of powerful politicians.
Clearly if this had been a simple he said, she said affair, the jury would have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially in view of how the story unfolded. Don’t forget, the relationship between Harris and this girl came to light in 1997, by which time she was 32; it had ended 3 years earlier. This begs the question, why didn’t her father report it then? According to Harris, the woman had asked him for £25,000 to set up an animal sanctuary saying if he refused, her brother would go to the papers. He appears to have called her bluff, but clearly their relationship ended on a sour note.
When one studies what little information has been reported on this case, it is clear that this woman was not an overly credible witness, so the Crown felt it necessary to bolster her testimony. It did this in two ways, by adding other charges to the indictment, and by adducing what it called bad character evidence. This latter is a fairly recent development in English law, and a sinister one indeed. It is all the more worrisome as prior to his conviction Rolf Harris was not a man simply of good character but of impeccable character. The Crown used the same tactic against Max Clifford when it adduced evidence from a non-victim that he had abused an underage girl in Spain. As these are new allegations, they give the defendant the task of refuting them in a he said, she said situation.
With Rolf Harris though, the Crown went one better when it produced a victim who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him at a community centre in Portsmouth when there was no evidence that he had ever been there. She claimed that between 1968 and 1970 (more specifically 1969) he was signing autographs at the Leigh Park Community Centre. At this time, Harris was not the massive star he would go on to become, but he was a name.
A search of the Gale News Vault from June 1968 to January 1970 turns up only two mentions for him, both of them from the Times and both relating to a television programmes, but if he had been attending an event and signing autographs there would surely have been a record of it. A thorough search was made of the local press, and doubtless other inquiries were made too, yet still there was no trace of him there. This should have led to the judge directing the jury to find him not guilty on this count, but it was allowed to ride, and they convicted him on it.
After his conviction, the odious Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, went on the BBC and said his conviction was a vindication of the policy of pursuing historical sex abuse cases, saying that it didn’t matter how old they were. She might have added that neither would the non-existence of evidence. She might just change her mind if her own lawyer husband gets caught up in this witch-hunt, and with the latest developments in the Westminster lost paedophile file scandal, who can rule that out?
There were two unforgivable attempts to blacken the character of Mr Harris during the trial. One concerned his visiting Cambridge, where he was alleged to have groped a waitress. It was clear that he had made a mistake about never having been there in the 1970s; allowing for his age, the number of events he must have attended over the years, and doubtless his state of mind, that was understandable. But a surprise witness came to his defence, former Crimewatch presenter Sue Cook who said celebrities were bussed in to events of this nature. All the same, the claim that he lied about this is going the rounds incessantly, and in any case how does his attending this event prove he groped a waitress?
The other attempt was to charge him with downloading child pornography. This didn’t fly, and the 4 charges were eventually dropped.
Although the jury deliberated for eight days, the Crown’s tactic of loading the indictment worked. Most people think not only is there no smoke without fire but that the more allegations are made, the more they have the ring of truth. The reality is that there is no smoke without smoke, and the quality of evidence is far more important than its quantity. But can all these women have been lying, and if so, what motive could they have?
Well, Tonya Lee waived her anonymity and sold her story for £33,000. That is a big incentive to gild the lily if not to lie outright, but what was her story? That when she was 15, Harris indecently assaulted her in London. This assault took place in a public house in front of witnesses, none of whom actually witnessed it. She said nothing for a quarter of a century. In one of her interviews she said tearfully that she didn’t know how he could sleep at night.
Harris accuser Tonya Lee, who cried all the way to the bank.
The woman he was alleged to have indecently assaulted at Portsmouth who was aged perhaps 7 at the time felt that after he touched her, “all the happiness had gone”, said the Crown - implying for the rest of her life. In other words, both these women claim in effect he ruined their lives. Along with the “courage” always said to be shown by accusers, this is one of the most persistent themes of these types of cases. It is almost as though the “victims” are reading from a script. Now let us digress a little and talk about an actual rape victim.
In June 2002, Kara Robinson was 15 years old when she was kidnapped at gunpoint from Columbia, South Carolina, forced into a box, bound, and transported to her abductor’s apartment where he subjected her to at best mind games and at worst mental torture before stripping and repeatedly raping her. Leaving her handcuffed to his bed he fell asleep. Kara managed to slip out of the cuff, untie her feet, dress after a fashion, and flee barefoot, flagging down a car to end her 18 hour ordeal. By the time she returned with a police escort, the apartment was empty.
Her attacker fled south, and after a high speed car chase, ended his own life with a bullet. Kara was incredibly brave but she was also lucky, because forensic evidence would shortly link her rapist to the murder of 3 underage girls. Two years ago she told Paula Zahn she was disappointed Richard Evonitz killed himself rather than stand trial because she wanted him to look at her across a courtroom and realise “I was the biggest mistake that he ever made”. Unlike many victims of (supposed) campus rape, she refuses to identify herself as a “survivor”; her life is not defined by 18 hours of torment, terror, and as we know now, certain death had she not escaped.
Granted that Kara Robinson is an exceptional human being, most people - women, girls and its very occasional male victims - do not shrug off rape like a bad cold. Both tragedy and trauma affect different people in different ways and at different times. The fittest and bravest of soldiers have been reduced to gibbering wrecks by shell shock. Musician turned fringe politician Screaming Lord Sutch is thought to have committed suicide on account of the death of his mother. It may be that the aforementioned Mike Tyson went off the rails on account of the death of his mentor Cus D’Amato, but there is a sameness about all or almost all the alleged victims in cases of this nature. Their lives are ruined or changed forever for the worst. They struggle to come to terms with their suffering, even if they have “suffered” no more than a stroked breast, and of course they exhibit “great courage” in coming to court, in this case under a cloak of anonymity put up at a London hotel in an attempt to deny a man his freedom and trash his reputation.
There is another explanation for all these ruined lives though, that is that life can indeed be hard at times, even for the talented, the famous, and the wealthy. Earlier this year the fashion designer L’Wren Scott committed suicide at the age of 49. She is thought to have taken her own life due to financial pressures; this was of course a tragedy, but one can hardly expect the average housewife perhaps living in rented accommodation and struggling to make ends meet to have much sympathy for her. Someone who has been sexually abused as a child is a different matter.
The reality though is that we all suffer setbacks, most of us experience heartache, pain and bereavement. Some of us experience serious injury or disfigurement, but the idea that one incident at one time, albeit at a young age, is responsible for all our future misery and human failings is frankly ridiculous. Does a woman who has been “touched up” as a child become an alcoholic or a drug addict because of this one unpleasant incident, or would she have done so anyway? It is difficult to believe the allegations against Rolf Harris were motivated by anything other than financial considerations, a desire to be in the limelight, even vicariously through anonymous testimony, and in one case by spite or revenge.
If that sounds unduly cynical, the reader is referred to the Dave Lee Travis case which included blatant perjury, and the allegations against Jim Davidson which included rape, allegations which were so weak they never got near a courtroom. And of course, for anonymous victims - be they real victims or shameless liars - there is always the opportunity to waive this anonymity at a later date and make a few bucks selling an exclusive to one of the tabloids. And let us not mention proposed civil actions against Mr Harris and others fueled by ambulance-chasing lawyers.
Rolf Harris was sentenced on a Friday, and it was only to be expected that the weekend tabloids would be full of further revelations. Sure enough, this was the case. Among those making lurid allegations after the event were the broadcaster Vanessa Feltz and the singer Linda Nolan. Miss Feltz is a big woman, and no shrinking violet, any man feeling her up without her explicit consent would be taking his life in his hands. Linda Nolan’s sister Coleen has allegedly been groped by Jimmy Savile - certainly he put his arm round her. Now all they need is Gary Glitter to collect the set.
What was missing from the Rolf Harris trial and similar historical sex abuse trials? How about expert evidence? Old evidence is stale evidence, and stale evidence is bad evidence. Evidence that is years old is always dubious, and evidence that is decades old is good for an after dinner anecdote, nothing more without strong corroboration. Ask yourself this too, if these allegations had concerned non-sexual assaults or indeed any crime of a non-sexual nature, would the authorities have even given them the time of day?
It is disappointing rather than surprising that a witness such as Professor Elizabeth Loftus was not called by the Defence to testify about the fallibility of human memory, confabulation, Old Hag and pseudologia fantastica, not to mention the effects of mind-altering drugs. For example, it is possible that the woman from Portsmouth was indeed sexually assaulted, but decades later after this case broke, her assailant – who was perhaps unknown to her – was transmogrified into Rolf Harris.
It can be argued that there was corroboration in this trial, but only concerning the one alleged victim. If the Crown had not been permitted to load the indictment with all manner of allegations that could not be proved either way and adduce bad character evidence where there was none, Rolf Harris might have walked away from this case with his reputation in tatters, but without being branded a paedophile.
Since his conviction there have been many more allegations, and they may run into dozens or even hundreds if the Savile case is anything to go by. It has been claimed these allegations are similar if not strikingly so, a claim that was made at his trial. One might just as well argue that with the exception of the 1840 Damascus case, the numerous allegations of ritual murder that have been made against Jews down through the centuries are strikingly similar, but anyone who does so will be branded a rabid anti-Semite. There are certainly striking similarities in the countless cases of alien abductions reported in the modern era; does this mean they are all true, or indeed any of them?
The similarities in this case are indeed striking, so striking in fact that if you were to substitute the name Jimmy Savile for Rolf Harris, you would not be able to tell the difference. Does this mean that like great minds, sexual predators think alike, or are these women simply telling us what they think we want to hear?
Although the crimes of Jimmy Savile have doubtless been greatly exaggerated, there is one stark different between the allegations made against him and those made against Rolf Harris, that is a paper trail. Savile had access to underage girls at a special school, and access to vulnerable women at other places, most notably Broadmoor. Over the years a number of complaints were made against him, and he was even investigated by the police. If Rolf Harris had been doing the same sort of things Savile had allegedly done and on a similar scale, one would have expected there to have been a paper trail incriminating him too, yet there is nothing, not a police report, not an ambiguously worded article in Private Eye, not even an internal BBC memo cautioning managerial staff not to leave this guy alone with women because of his wandering hands. Heck, even the crazies had nothing bad to say about Rolf Harris before the Savile scandal broke.
The only document that might be considered incriminating is that letter in his own hand to the father of his former lover, a letter that protests his innocence. All the other allegations against him were made in the wake of the Savile revelations. Every single one of them.
What did the “victims” of Rolf Harris do at the time? Not one of them reported him to the police, not one screamed or slapped his face, not one complained. Some of his assaults were said to have been carried out brazenly in front of witnesses. Did he have such mesmeric celebrity powers that it never occurred to them or to the victims to report him to the police, an event organiser or someone in authority? Were they too terrified, were these witnesses too craven to call out the great Rolf Harris? Did not one of them think of the other obvious thing and tip off the tabloids who might have lurked undercover at his next public appearance with hidden cameras, or did these assaults simply never happen? Again, the fact that there was no paper trail at all is sufficient answer.
For all that may be said about the above, a properly directed jury might reasonably have convicted Harris of the charges relating to the principal alleged victim before the age of 16 but not after 16. The idea that he had some kind of Svengali-like hold over her is arrant nonsense. Anyone who wants to seet what a truly abusive relationship looks like need look no further than the shocking case of Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum. There is absolutely no suggestion that Harris beat this woman or threatened her in some ectoplasmic way, and if she didn’t like the way he treated her, from the age of 16 and certainly from the age of 18, she could simply have severed all contact with him. She was apparently a person of normal intelligence, certainly judging by her victim impact statement.
No jury should have convicted him on any of the other counts, even one that deliberated for over a week, and the charge relating to the youngest alleged victim from 1969 is too silly for words. Where does this leave us?
Let us be clear about this, at the moment the authorities may be concentrating on celebrities, but unless the rot is stopped, it will spread. False allegations of this nature are already rife. In child custody disputes the easiest way for a spiteful estranged wife to prevent her husband from seeing his kids is to raise the spectre of sexual abuse. Claims of sexual harassment are rife in both politics and the workplace, especially among higher earners; the names Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain spring to mind. The rule of thumb seems to be that if a man comes on to a woman, say in the bar after work as in the Lord Rennard case, that constitutes sexual harassment. Unless she is attracted to him, as in the case of Edwina Currie and John Major to take just one example. Of course, when a woman comes on to a man, the issue of sexual harassment never arises.
What is particularly disturbing about the Harris case is the antiquity of most of the charges and the adducing of bad character evidence, in reality simply more of the same against a man of good character in order to bolster the credibility of the other accusations.
The reader should not be surprised if at some time in the not-too-distant future we see journalists, car mechanics, builders, and even – perish the thought - police officers arrested on suspicion of touching a child’s thigh or more likely the breast of a drunken woman ten, twenty or even thirty years previously then given the impossible task of proving their innocence, which by definition involves putting their accusers through the “ordeal” of coming to court and testifying (anonymously of course), something that requires “great courage” on their part.
Operation Yewtree has been called a witch-hunt, a claim that is now derided on account of the convictions of Max Clifford and Rolf Harris. What the likes of Alison Saunders forget is that while Operation Yewtree has indeed resulted in convictions, so did Salem.
[The above article was published originally in 3 parts (due to the limitations of the site software) July 8, 2014].
To Rolf Harris And You
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