Rolf Harris has been convicted and for many that is conclusive proof of his guilt. However, we should not forget that the British justice system is not perfect, it can make errors, as these high profile miscarriages of justice show.
I do not know if Rolf Harris committed the crimes he was accused of. However, I find the fact that he was convicted, based on the evidence reported by the media, alarming.
Let me explain why:
COUNT ONE – VERDICT: GUILTY
“The woman said she was aged seven or eight when she queued to get an autograph from Harris at a community centre in Hampshire in 1968 or 1969. When she reached the front of the queue, Harris had touched her inappropriately with his “big hairy hands”, she told the jury.
The court heard that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre. He also showed his hands to the jury and denied they were hairy.”
When they say that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre, they don’t mean a cursory glance turned nothing up. They searched local newspaper archives between January 1967 and May 1974, council records and even conducted letter drops appealing for witnesses. Nothing, not a single piece of independent evidence that he was ever there!
It is hard to see how the uncorroborated recollection of an event alleged to have happened 45 years ago, when the witness was eight, can constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Consider for a moment, what you can accurately remember from when you were eight? I am not as old as the witness but I can’t remember the name of my best friend, my teacher, my birthday party, frankly anything. I have a childhood scar, it must have been caused by a significant trauma. I remember it hurt and bled a lot, but I can’t remember how it happened, let alone where, when or who was with me at the time.
Even if the victim is sincere in believing her own recollection of events, she may simply be mistaken. Memory is not a flawless recording device. It is very common for people to believe they remember things that can be proven to have never happened. If you find that hard to believe there is a very good TED Talk dealing with it here and another here.
As a principle of justice it seems absurd that anyone can be convicted simply on the unsupported “evidence” of someone else accusing them of a crime.
Only a few days ago a trainee barrister was convicted of falsely accusing a former boyfriend of rape. Here is another recent case and another. People make false allegations, for many different reasons; to take revenge on a former partner or in some cases for financial gain. In this case the “victim” made $1.5 Million before admitting years later that she made the whole thing up.
Making a claim against a celebrity is a heads I win, tails I don’t lose proposition for any opportunist!
If the accuser is believed they make a huge financial windfall. If not, they still ruin their target’s reputation (no smoke without fire) and they almost certainly won’t be charged with making a false claim.
Nobody charged the false accusers of celebrities such as Bill Roache, or Dave Lee Travis or Jimmy Tarbuck or Jim Davidson or Michael Le Vell or the footballers Nile Ranger, Christian Montano, Ellis Harrison, Loic Remy or another 11 innocent footballers here.
No one who wasn’t there can be sure what Rolf Harris did or didn’t do in this case, but I know that there is an £11m incentive for people to make up accusations and without any corroborating evidence there has to be a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused.
COUNT TWO – VERDICT: GUILTY
Another woman said she had been working as a waitress, at the age of 13 or 14, at a charity event in Cambridge in 1975 when Harris had put his arm around her shoulder.
“To start, it was a very nervous but a good feeling,” she said. “However his hand then moved and his hand went up and down my back and his hand went over my bottom and it was very firm.”
Again all we have is uncorroborated allegations.
I know that Rolf Harris said that he had never been to Cambridge and that this was shown to be a false statement, for many this was the silver bullet that proved his guilt. But, failures of memory are not proof of indecent assault!
Remember, Rolf Harris is 84 years old and has been in show business for 60+years. He has been all over the country for various events and it is not at all unreasonable for an 84 year old man to forget having been somewhere 40 years previously.
Indeed Crime Watch presenter Sue Cook admitted she had forgotten being in the same show
If you think it through it would make no sense for Rolf Harris to deliberately lie about this.
He was not on trial for being in Cambridge and being there is not the same as committing the offence. If he knew he had been in Cambridge he would presumably know it was for a television show. In the internet age there had to be a chance it would come to light and undermine his credibility as a witness. Why take the chance? If he didn’t believe totally that he had never been to Cambridge why not simply say, “I don’t remember being in Cambridge at that time, I travelled around a lot”
Then there is the seldom mentioned fact that the show actually took place in 1978, three years after the alleged indecent assault incident.
This would make the alleged victim 16 or 17 not the child of 13 claimed. If the accuser cannot remember whether she was a child of 13 or a teenager of 17, can we really ruin a man solely on the strength of her memory?
She also got the location wrong:
“The alleged victim had suggested the event had taken place on Parker’s Piece, a large green in the centre of Cambridge.”
The show was actually filmed on Jesus Green a much larger, wooded park about a 6 minute drive north.
So the accuser couldn’t remember when it happened (or how old she was), she couldn’t remember where it happened and yet the jury found her 36 year old memory of the indecent assault to be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt!
When we talk about the indecent assault we are not talking about something so traumatic, like rape, that it would understandably be burned into her memory. We are talking about a 17 year old having her bottom touched in the 1970′s, a time where bottom pinching was considered mainstream enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat .
Again, nobody who wasn’t there can be sure what Rolf Harris did or didn’t do in this case, but I know that there is an £11m incentive for people to make up accusations and without any corroborating evidence there has to be a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused.
I will come back to counts 3-9, but first lets deal with:
COUNTS 10 TO 12 – VERDICTS: GUILTY
Tonya Lee was a 15-year-old on a theatre trip from Australia to the UK when, she said, the entertainer fondled her.
Ms Lee has waived the right to anonymity granted to alleged victims of sexual offences. The three charges relate to one day in May 1986.
She said he asked her to sit on his lap before moving his hand up her leg and assaulting her.
“He was moving back and forth rubbing against me,” she said. “It was very subtle, it wasn’t big movements.”
The jury heard that Harris had then patted her on the thigh and moved his hand upwards. She said she had “started to panic” and rushed to the toilet.
When she came out, she said, Harris was waiting for her and gave her “a big bear hug” before putting his hand down her top and then down her skirt.
Harris denied ever meeting Ms Lee.
It was also revealed that she had sold her story for £33,000 to an Australian TV station and a magazine. She said accepting the money had been a “huge mistake”.
Here we have the uncorroborated accusation of a woman who has already cashed in, to the tune of £33,000!
She also claimed in her evidence that the sexual assault caused her to lose six kilos in weight during the six week theatre tour. It was then proven in court that the alleged incident could only have taken place in the final week of the tour!
As the defence QC pointed out:
“Are you really saying between this alleged incident on May 30 and six days later that you lost all that weight….in six days? You have blamed the loss of weight and inability to eat upon Rolf Harris.”
At best it appears that the witness has a confused recollection of events, not surprising after 28 years, at worst she was simply lying for financial gain.
Again, we don’t know what Rolf Harris did or didn’t do in this case, but I know that there is an £11m incentive for people to make up accusations and without any corroborating evidence there has to be a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused.
The remaining allegations concern the childhood friend of Rolf Harris’ daughter Bindi.
COUNTS THREE TO NINE – VERDICTS: GUILTY
Seven of the 12 charges related to a childhood friend of Harris’s daughter Bindi. Six charges related to alleged abuse when she was aged between 13 and 15, and the seventh to when she was 19.
The court heard that the abuse began when she had been on holiday with the Harris family at the age of 13. Later, the woman said Harris had performed a sex act on her at the Harris family home, with Bindi asleep in the same room.
Further assaults took place at the Harris home and in her bedroom at her own home while her parents were downstairs, she said.
The convicted celebrity admitted having a sexual relationship with the woman – but stressed that it had been consensual and had begun after she had turned 18.
However, the relationship had “ended in a very acrimonious way,” he said.
The court was shown a letter Harris sent to the woman’s father in 1997, after the end of the relationship.
The letter said: “I fondly imagined that everything that had taken place had progressed from a feeling of love and friendship – there was no rape, no physical forcing, brutality or beating that took place.”
Here we do have actual evidence, of sexual activity between an older man and a much younger woman.
Rolf Harris admits to having a sexual relationship with her when she was 18 years old. She is now 49, so at the time Rolf Harris would have been 53, an age gap of 35 years.
To many of us such a large age gap seems unnatural, but it is certainly not unusual for famous older men to have relationships with younger women: 73 year old Patrick Stewart Recently married Sunny Ozell, 38 years his junior Michael Douglas is 25 years older than Katherine Zeta Jones. James Woods has a girlfriend 46 years his junior, Alec Baldwin’s wife is 26 years younger, Doug Hutchinson is breaking up with his wife who is 34 years younger, Woody Allen’s wife is 35 years younger than him, Dick Van Dyke’s wife is 46 years younger and the biggest age gap I could find was Hugh Heffner whose wife is 60 years his junior.
The fact that large age gap relationships make most of us uncomfortable, does not make them a crime, or evidence of sexual abuse. Some women find famous, rich or powerful men sexually attractive regardless of their age and almost all men find at least some 18 year old women sexually attractive!
The letter evidence proves a sexual relationship that we may disapprove of, however, it is not evidence of criminal activity.
If the alleged abuse started when she was 13 it was in 1978. They had, by all accounts, a consensual relationship from when she was 18 in 1983 until it was ended in the 1990′s when she was in her late twenties.
They had an adult sexual relationship for around 10 years, whatever trauma she alleges she had suffered, she had clearly forgiven him. Or could it be that there never was any abuse? At the age of 25 or 26 she was clearly an adult, so why stay in a sexual relationship with a former abuser?
The relationship ended acrimoniously, so she certainly had a motive to turn vindictive.
There are a number of issues with the statements of this witness:
Firstly, during the period of the alleged sexual assault on the family holiday, the victim kept a diary. Here we have a written record, made by the alleged victim at the time. Far from being distraught at these alleged sexual assaults the diary recalls a very happy holiday. The entry for the actual day of the alleged assault was that “The day was great”
Now it is of course possible that a diary might not contain the full details of a sexual assault, but is it really credible that the whole diary of the holiday period would portray a happy holiday and that the day of a sexual assault would be described as “great”?
Secondly the story told by the witness changed. The victim claimed in court that she had been molested twice at the side of the Harris family home. Her statement to the Police stated it had only happened once.
Thirdly, there are some other minor parts of her statement that are at best questionable. She claims one assault happened in the afternoon after sunbathing on a Jetty at the Harris home. Evidence was submitted that the Jetty is in shade from 10:00am onwards.
She claimed that she was assaulted one morning on holiday as she came out of the shower in her hotel bedroom. How would Harris have gained access to her (presumably locked) hotel bedroom while she was in the shower! Bindi testified that she shared the hotel room with her and that the only way somebody could gain access to the room was if they were let in.
There was also the testimony from Bindi about the holiday, she told the court that her father paid the two girls little attention, that the girls were stuck together like glue during the holiday and that she saw no change in her friends behaviour.
It is not disputed that the alleged victim had asked Harris for $45,000 although she disputes it was an attempt at blackmail as Harris claimed.
“The court has previously heard that she was an alcoholic by the time she was in her late 20s”
There is, considerable scientific evidence that alcohol abuse is linked to confabulation (also called honest lying) where people make things up and honestly believe them”
The standard of guilt in a criminal trial is supposed to be, beyond a reasonable doubt.
The only evidence is the statement of his accuser, which contradicts her own diary of the time, her previous statement to the police and the evidence of two other witnesses. (Rolf and Bindi Harris). Some of the claims also contradict common sense (appearing in a locked hotel bedroom as she was getting out of the shower, or sunbathing in the shade)
Without any corroborating evidence of under-age, on non-consensual, sexual activity can it really be beyond reasonable doubt that this could be a vindictive attack by an ex-partner, or a confabulated tale from a confessed alcoholic, or an attempt to gain financial advantage from somebody who admits previously asking the accused for money?
Some will doubtless say that even if individually these are not compelling, when taken as a whole they paint a picture of an abuser.
This is a very dangerous conclusion, lots of nonsense is still nonsense:
Many people have claimed to be abducted by aliens. Individually their accounts are not compelling, but (even though there are lots of them) taking them together they still don’t paint a picture of extra-terrestrial attack!
The media, in its orgy of “Savilization”, has been encouraging people to come forward. The press is also awash with stories of compensation for “victims”, if any social climate was perfect for false accusers to try their luck, this would be it.
I really don’t know (and nor do you!) whether Rolf Harris is an evil paedophile monster or an 84 year old national treasure who has been ruined by greedy/malicious opportunists.
I do know that if all it takes to send a man to prison and ruin his life is an uncorroborated accusation from 45 years ago, then no man is safe under British justice.