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  • 21.09.2018

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Harris launches bid to clear his name
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21.09.2018

Harris launches bid to clear his name

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Disgraced Australian children’s entertainer Rolf Harris has launched a final legal bid to clear his name and have 12 indecent assault convictions thrown out.
Harris, 87, appeared in the Royal Courts of Justice in central London overnight where he is seeking leave to appeal the convictions, for which he was sentenced to a five-year, nine-month jail term.
He was released from Stafford jail in March, paroled after serving half his sentence for indecently assaulting four girls and young women aged seven years to 19 years.
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His legal team is seeking to appeal four of the convictions against two of the girls, aged seven and 15, arguing that new evidence shows the convictions are unsafe and should be quashed.
If the three judges sitting in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division find for the defence, Harris will then argue that the remaining eight convictions are also unsafe and should also be thrown out.
The defence is arguing that Harris should not have been convicted of indecently touching a seven-year-old girl at a community centre in the Leigh Park council estate in rural England because, among other reasons, there was no evidence he had ever been there.
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The court was told a “Walter Mitty’’ type character who had appeared as a prosecution witness in the trial in 2014 had claimed that he recalled Harris had visited the centre in 1969, because it occurred just after the witness returned from a lengthy tour of duty in Korea.
However, defence lawyer Stephen Vullo QC said that no-one in the first trial had picked up on the fact that the Korean War had finished many years earlier, and further information had revealed the man, David James, had never left the UK and in fact had been discharged from the Royal Air Force after just 10 days.
Mr Vullo said the disclosure process should also have revealed that Mr James, who died after giving evidence in 2014, had picked up minor offences as a truck driver in the late ‘60s, which would have provided further clues about his true employment in the late 1960s.
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Mr James was the only independent witness who directly backed up the complainant’s evidence that Harris, who had a number one hit in 1969 with Two Little Boys, had attended the Leigh Park centre.
“It is almost inconceivable that Rolf Harris attended a small, off-the-beaten-track community centre in a council estate,’’ Mr Vullo said, citing his TV show, his chart-topping success and high media profile at the time.
“We say the reason is obvious — because he was not there.’’
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The defence also called two witnesses, retired police officers Raymond Piper and Peter Spencer, who gave evidence that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were based at a police station which was located less than 100m away from the Leigh Park community centre.
Both men told the court that because the station was a converted police house and was too small, they would go to the community centre every day for briefings, and neither of them ever heard anything about Harris making a visit there.
Prosecutor Jonathan Rees QC said the information should not be accepted as new evidence, and that both former police officers had conceded it was possible Harris had been to the centre without their knowledge.
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He said the jury had already been aware of a “dearth’’ of evidence putting Harris at the community centre, but had chosen to believe the complainant anyway.
He conceded the information about Mr James’ military and employment history should have been disclosed, and that he understood the force of Mr Vullo’ argument.
However, he said that while people made up stories about their military service, “it doesn’t mean they are fantasists across the board.’’
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Presiding judge Lord Justice Treacy said: “what the defence submission amounts to it that (Mr James) has been exposed as a Walter Mitty character’’ and that the defence further submitted no-one else had placed Harris at the scene.
Walter Mitty was a fictional character who dreamt he took part in heroic military service, when he in fact lived an ordinary suburban life.
The incident at Leigh Park forms one of the convictions on Harris’ record.
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The defence is also seeking to appeal three further convictions relating to a 15-year-old girl.
Mr Vullo sought to introduce new evidence relating to her medical records obtained through a civil lawsuit which showed that on 49 separate occasions, the complainant had told medical specialists or counsellors that she had been abused by a family member, but did not mention being abused by Harris.
However Mr Rees argued that the jury had been aware that the woman had complained before about being sexually abused by a family member.
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He said the jury was aware “this was a lady with a chaotic life stemming from the systemic abuse my learned friend refers to.’’
Mr Rees argued the jury had been well aware of her anorexia, bulimia, drug and alcohol counselling and diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.
“The fresh evidence should not be received by the court and if any or all if it is, it still does not render the convictions unsafe,’’ he said, in summing up.
A small group of supporters attended court with Harris including his niece Jenny, who attended his previous two trials and a retrial. There was no sign of his wife Alwen, who is frail and elderly. A man outside court cheered and said “good on you Rolf’’ as Harris fought through a media scrum as he left the court.
The case continues today with legal arguments on cross-admissibility — the correlation between the four convictions under appeal, and how any decision would apply to the remaining eight convictions.
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The case will then be adjourned for several weeks for decision.
The court may decline to grant leave for the appeal to proceed.
However, if the judges they do allow the appeal and rule the convictions should be quashed, Harris may be a free man, with his criminal convictions wiped.
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If the prosecution decided to retry the matters, they would have to seek the court’s approval.
Earlier this year, Harris pleaded not guilty to assaulting seven other girls and women. He was either found not guilty, or the jury was unable to return a verdict, on all charges relating to these seven complainants.
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