Rolf Harris 'a Jekyll and Hyde'

Congleton Guardian: Rolf Harris arrives at Southwark Crown Court in central London Rolf Harris arrives at Southwark Crown Court in central London

Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character whose "untouchable" reputation allowed him to carry out a string of alleged indecent assaults on under-age girls, a court has heard.

The 84-year-old was even known at an Australian TV channel as "the octopus" because of the way he put his hands all over women, London's Southwark Crown Court heard.

Opening the case against the star, who denies 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, prosecutor Sasha Wass QC said Harris's alleged victims were "overawed" at meeting him, saying: "Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable."

Addressing a packed courtroom, Ms Wass said Harris was "an immensely talented man" who excelled in art, music and children's entertainment. He painted a picture of the Queen in 2005 to commemorate her 80th birthday, before being made a CBE the following year.

It was his fame and reputation that meant he was able to carry out "brazen" sexual assaults, often when other people were present or nearby, she said.

Ms Wass said: "The prosecution does not, for a minute, suggest that there is not a good, talented and kind side to Mr Harris.

"But, concealed behind this charming and amicable children's entertainer, lay a man who exploited the very children who were drawn to him.

"There is a Jekyll and Hyde nature to Rolf Harris and this dark side of Rolf Harris was obviously not apparent to all of the other people he met during the course of his work, and it was not apparent to those who may want to testify to his good character."

The prosecutor said it was "a side of him which is sexually attracted to children and under-age girls" and "a side which gave him the confidence to molest girls knowing that they could not object and, even if they did, nobody would believe them".

She said: "You will hear from a make-up artist from Channel 7 in Australia that Rolf Harris's reputation was such that he was known as the octopus because of the way that he would put his hands all over women."

Harris, sitting in the dock wearing a grey suit, white shirt and multi-coloured tie, listened intently to the proceedings through a hearing loop as the prosecution case was outlined.

His wife Alwen and other members of his family sat listening in the public gallery alongside dozens of UK and international journalists.

Ms Wass told the court that eight alleged victims will give evidence, four of whom are the subject of charges on the indictment, and the others supporting witnesses.

"The chances of so many people making up similar false allegations are just ludicrous," she told jurors.

She went on to outline allegations made by one of the victims, who was allegedly groomed like "a young puppy who had been trained to obey".

Eventually the woman - whose experiences at the hands of Harris led to her becoming an alcoholic - told her parents, the court heard, prompting her father to write a letter to Harris.

In a reply, thought to have been sent in March 1997, the artist confessed to having a sexual relationship with the woman, but denied it started when she was 13.

In the letter, he described being in a state of "self loathing" and feeling "sickened" by himself for the misery he had caused her.

He apologised to the man for betraying his trust and added: "I know that what I did was wrong but we are, all of us, fallible and oh how I deluded myself. Please forgive me, love Rolf."

In a police interview in November 2012, Harris gave a prepared statement that said: "I categorically deny having had any sexual contact with the complainant whatsoever while she was under the age of 16.

"I admit that I did have a consensual sexual relationship with the complainant when she was an adult. I finished the relationship and she was extremely upset."

The court heard that seven of the 12 counts relate to this woman, but Harris could not be charged in relation to alleged assaults while on holiday because, until 1997, someone could not be charged with alleged offences that happened outside the UK. Harris has also not been charged in connection with offences that were said to have taken place after the woman was 19, because she was effectively consenting.

Ms Wass said Harris's interest in the girl was not an "isolated aberration", telling the court: "The investigation in this case has revealed that Mr Harris has used his position as a well-known and well-loved celebrity to access children and to touch them indecently in the knowledge and with the confidence that they would not make any complaints against him because of who he was."

The court heard that some complainants came forward years ago, while others only did so after the publicity surrounding high-profile Operation Yewtree.

But jurors were told that none of the witnesses knew each other and had not "put their heads together".

Ms Wass said one charge relates to a woman who claims Harris groped her when she was just eight years old as she went to get his autograph at a community centre in Portsmouth in 1969.

The court then heard details of women who claim they were groped by Harris, but their complaints are not part of the charges on the indictment because they happened abroad before the law changed in 1997 to allow such claims to be prosecuted in the UK.

One woman, to whom one charge of indecent assault relates, alleges that she was working as a waitress at an event - possibly called It's a Celebrity Knockout - in Cambridge when she was 14 in the 1970s, when she saw Harris playing with a small terrier outside the marquee.

Her rubbed the back of her body, from her shoulders to her buttocks a number of times, the court heard, then acted as if nothing had happened and walked away.

The alleged victim in the final three counts on the indictment was part of an Australian theatre company which visited the UK in 1986.

Later the court heard that her boyfriend persuaded her to go to the media, and she employed a PR agent and received 60,000 dollars to appear on a television programme called A Current Affair and give an interview to a magazine called Woman's Day.

Ms Wass said: "(The woman) will no doubt be criticised for her contact with the media and the fact that she has sought to make money by revealing her experience at the hands of Mr Harris.

"But you will want to ask yourselves this. Just because she has received money, does that mean that what happened to her was not true?"

Ms Wass told the jury of six men and six women that, although the allegations related to historic assaults, victims of such assaults often "suffer in silence" for years.

"These sexual offences may be historic but the consequences of them are frequently current and ongoing," she said, describing the alcoholism said to have caused to one victim by the alleged assault.

The case was adjourned until Monday morning when the first witness is expected to give evidence.

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