London: A woman who alleges she was groped by Australian entertainer Rolf Harris was reduced to tears in court on Wednesday, as she rejected suggestions made to her by Mr Harris’ barrister that she had tried to “manipulate” potential witnesses.
Harris, aged 87, is facing four counts of indecent assault with three separate women accusing him of groping them at different events dating between 1971 and 1983. He is pleading not guilty to all charges.
On Wednesday the jury, comprising seven women and five men, heard testimony from the second of three women at Southwark Crown Court. The court heard Mr Harris was convicted in 2014 and also faced a trial in 2017.
She testified in person before the jury, that at Star Games event in 1978 where she worked, Harris groped her breast and ran his hands up her legs towards her crotch on three separate occasions.
She alleged that he put his arm around her and touched her left breast, leaving her confused and shocked. “It was one of those moments where you ask – did that just happen?” the woman said.
She said within half an hour he did it again but went further. “This time he squeezed my breast ??? really hard. My period was due and I was very tender and it really hurt.” It was at this point that she says he quietly said to her “You’re a little bit irresistible.”
“You can’t defend yourself against that, it just comes out of nowhere and you can’t do anything about it before it’s over,” she said.
But on the third incident, the woman said she did react. She said that when she got into a taxi, Mr Harris, for whom she was responsible for ushering around the event, put his left hand on her knee and ran his hand up her jeans towards her crotch. She testified that he again told her that she was irresistible.
“I clamped my legs together ??? and pulled his hand out. I told him to ‘f— off and leave me alone.” She said it was the first time she had used the f-word. She was aged 16 years at the time.
The woman said he considered the matter a “minor grope” and when she told her father about it that day when she got home, he remarked: “You shouldn’t have worn that tight pink jumper.”
She defended her father’s “dismissive” reaction as a reflection of the social attitudes in the 1970s but said it contributed to her decision not to take it any further.
“What would the reaction have been from someone who didn’t love me,” she said.
But she said for the rest of her life she would tell her friends and family whenever Harris came on the television that he was “dirty old man, a groper and a fraud.” She said he was called “Groper Rolf” in their household. When the sexual abuse scandal broke around BBC identity Jimmy Savile, she said she told her friends and colleagues that Harris would be next.
The court heard the woman was only motivated to contact police when she was told by her sister that during his first trial Harris had denied being in Cambridge – the city where the Star Games event had taken place. “I couldn’t in all conscience not tell them could I?”
But Harris’ barrister Stephen Vullo QC questioned the woman over why she had “resisted” reporting the incident until this point. “Why did you not come forward to support the other women?” he asked her.
“Because you have to go through this when you do,” she responded.
Just 24 hours prior, Mr Vullo had asked another of Harris’ accusers if she had only come forward with her allegation because she had wanted to jump on the “compensation bandwagon”, a suggestion that accuser denied, saying it had taken years to work up the “courage”. Her friends and employers also told the jury that she had been worried about the public attention her accusation would bring and the risk of not being believed.
The second accuser also echoed this.
Mr Vullo asked whether she had been “positioning” herself as an advocate for victims of sexual assault in terms of her career. She denied this and said she had turned away tabloid newspaper journalists from her front door as well as rejected a paid offer to appear in a media program. “This is why you don’t come forward lightly,” she told Mr Vullo, after sustained questioning about her motives.
At one point, judge Deborah Taylor admonished Mr Vullo when he criticised one of the woman’s responses as a “clever answer”.
Mr Vullo accused her of using every question under cross-examination to say bad things about his client – Mr Harris. The woman fired back “your questions are designed to make me look weak” and insisted she was only telling the truth about what had happened to her.
At one point the court was forced to adjourn when the woman broke down asking why she had to give lengthy testimony about her mother, whom she said was an alcoholic with severe mental health issues who lived in squalor in a drunken state.
Defence claimed that the woman had told police not to seek a witness statement from the woman’s mother because she might undermine her. The woman denied this, saying she had never been close to her mother. “My mother couldn’t undermine a dead man,” she said before breaking down and asking “why do I have to tell people about this about my mum?”
Harris attended the trial via video link. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
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