LONDON (Reuters) - Veteran Australian entertainer Rolf Harris groomed and psychologically dominated a 13-year-old girl before repeatedly sexually abusing her, a British court was told on Wednesday.
A mainstay of family television entertainment for decades, Harris is charged with 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls, some as young as seven or eight, between 1968 and 1986. Seven of the counts relate to one woman.
Harris, who denies all the charges, told the jury on Tuesday he had been in a relationship with the woman, but that this had started when she was 18, not 13, and that it had been an adult and consensual affair.
“This was not a consensual relationship, this was child abuse. Grooming. You effectively psychologically dominated that girl,” Prosecutor Sasha Wass said, addressing the 84-year-old, in the dock at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
“It just never happened,” Harris replied.
Harris muttered to himself in court before his second day of evidence and first day of cross-examination. Wearing a dark pinstriped suit and red tie, he attended the indecent assault trial - now in its fourth week - with his wife, Alwen Hughes.
On Tuesday he told a series of anecdotes detailing his rise to stardom, and gave a rendition of his famous comic song “Jake the Peg”.
“Yesterday you delighted us with a demonstration of your many talents,” Wass said.
“The prosecution does not suggest for a moment that you are anything but a brilliant and polished performer. But this case, as you know, is not a talent show. This case is taking place to decide whether beneath your friendly loveable exterior there is a darker side lurking.”
Harris said the relationship had been a series of isolated incidents and purely sexual.
“EXPOSED AS A CHILD MOLESTER”
The woman had previously told the court Harris abused her throughout her teenage and young-adult life. On one occasion he molested her within yards of his sunbathing wife and daughter and performed oral sex on her in the same room as other sleeping children, the jury of six men and six women was told.
Harris denied that account. “If it wasn’t so serious that would be laughable,” he said.
“It’s a syndrome, isn’t it, child abuse?” said Wass. “Grooming in the context of child abuse is training a child to keep your secret ... The longer the abuse goes on, the more compliant the victim is.”
“I‘m no expert in these matters,” said Harris.
Wass said that even as an adult, the woman had been too intimidated by Harris’ fame and public standing to tell police. Harris is known to millions in Britain and Australia for his work as a TV presenter and a string of pop music hits.
“Everybody in this court who has given evidence has said that they wouldn’t have stood a chance against you if it was your word against theirs. Because you were so famous, so popular, so loved by everyone,” she said.
“You were able to play with her like she was a toy.”
Harris said that when he was presenting the BBC show “Animal Hospital” the woman had tried to blackmail him for £25,000 to fund an animal sanctuary. When he refused to pay she threatened to tell her story to the press.
“I would not hold it in such dread for all these years unless she said it to me,” said Harris, referring to the blackmail threat.
Wass replied: “The dread, I suggest, is that you were going to be exposed as a child molester.” The trial continues.
Editing by Andrew Roche