Rolf Harris, seen arriving at Southwark Crown Court. Photo: Reuters
London: The prosecution has been saying all along that Rolf Harris had a dark side.
But they may not have expected him to admit it so easily.
In cross-examination in Southwark Crown Court on Wednesday, the 84-year-old entertainer was led expertly and unforgivingly by prosecutor Sasha Wass QC through intimate confessions about the side of his character that, he said, even his family didn’t know.
Within minutes of his taking the stand the jury heard him agree he had been “pretty good” at hiding the dark side to his character.
Later, he admitted it was possible he admired a 13-year-old girl’s body in a sexual way.
He confessed to - even sometimes volunteered to describe - sexual encounters at his family home and in public places with a woman 35 years his junior to whom he barely spoke more than a few “sweet nothings” during their 10-year affair.
He was pressed to explain why, in a letter to the woman’s father, he wrote “when I see the misery I have caused [the complainant] I am sickened by myself”.
And when asked why he had initially only revealed two of their sexual encounters to his legal team, he said he had been embarrassed by the presence of some “very attractive young ladies” in the lawyers’ chambers.
By the end of the day a clearly fatigued Harris, his voice low, was struggling to remember details such as whether his wife had given a statement to police.
But he kept repeating his core refrain – “never happened” – to each allegation he is charged with: that he sexually abused a teenage girl, grooming her into a relationship that destroyed her life.
He said his main accuser had “said all sorts of things which if it wasn’t so serious would have been laughable”.
The 84-year-old entertainer faces 12 charges of indecently assaulting four girls between 1968 and 1986.
Harris has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
On Wednesday he began his cross-examination by Ms Wass, who said he had the previous day “delighted us with a demonstration of your many talents”.
“The prosecution is not suggesting you are anything other than a brilliant and polished performer” she said “But this case is not a talent show, is it?
“Underneath your fun and loveable exterior there’s a darker side lurking … even on your own account your private life was very different.”
Harris replied “I suppose so.”
Ms Wass said: “You are pretty good at disguising that dark side of your character aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Harris replied.
Ms Wass said Harris had confessed to an affair with a friend of his daughter – whom Harris agreed had been like a daughter to him.
But Ms Wass said he had been abusing her, and grooming her into compliance since she was 13.
Harris admitted telling the complainant when she was 13 on holiday with the Harris family that she looked good in a bikini.
“You were saying to [her] ‘you have got a great body’,” Ms Wass said.
“You admired her sexually … Saying ‘your body looks good in a bikini’, that’s a sexual remark.”
“In hindsight I suppose so,” Harris said.
“You admired [her] body sexually during that holiday,” Ms Wass said.
“It’s possible, yes,” Harris said.
But he denied ever sexually assaulting her on the holiday, repeatedly saying “it never happened”.
And he also denied ever going up to her bedroom back in the UK, saying the complainant’s mother must have lied to the court when she remembered it.
Ms Wass accused Harris of tailoring his evidence to match his confession in a letter he wrote to the main complainant’s father “No, I don’t think so. I don’t agree,” Harris replied.
He said it never crossed his mind at the time that he had been accused of a crime.
Ms Wass said he was sending a coded message to her family that “you were untouchable and nobody would believe her”.
“You were worried about police,” she said.
“It never entered my mind,” Harris replied.
Ms Wass said Harris had “given away rather too much” in the letter.
In the letter, earlier shown to the jury, Harris wrote “when I see the misery I have caused [the complainant] I am sickened by myself”.
Ms Wass said it wouldn’t make sense to admit this if - as Harris said - they had simply had a consensual affair that ended when they drifted apart.
But Harris said he "took on" guilt over the woman's descent into alcoholism.
Ms Wass took Harris through each of the eight occasions that he admits having sexual contact with the complainant after she turned 18.
He said the first time she was staying at his family home, and he came into her room early in the morning with a cup of tea.
She was awake and grabbed his elbow, pulled him onto the bed beside her, then kicked the cover off her legs to just above the knee, Harris said.
“And you thought this was a come-on, showing you her calves?” Ms Wass said.
“Yes it was,” Harris replied. “My heart was thumping. There was a certain sexual chemistry happening between us.”
“Did it occur to you you could be misreading the signals?” Wass asked.
“One doesn’t think about the alternatives,” Harris said.
“You thought that was the green light?” she asked.
“I thought there was something happening … I took it as some sort of sexual advance.”
“I don’t know. It all seemed very strange.”
Ms Wass put it to Harris that none of this actually happened, that “you are describing these incidents which are ridiculous”.
Harris said: “No, this is what happened”.
Ms Wass said the next time the complainant came to stay, Harris brought her a cup of tea in the morning again and this time expected it would be followed by sex.
“You knew what you were letting yourself in for,” Ms Wass said.
“I think so … I was certainly excited,” Harris said.
There were some “whispered sweet nothings” that he couldn’t recall, then foreplay followed by him giving her oral sex.
He then walked out without a word, he said.
“We hardly ever spoke,” he said.
They had another similar encounter in the Harris home – “it was always early morning,” Harris said – again with no conversation beyond “some whispered sweet nothings” that he could not recall.
“Most people communicate,” Ms Wass said. “You seem to just touch [the complainant] … it’s a very strange way for two consenting adults to behave.”
On a third occasion the two of them went for a walk on a footpath behind some houses in Bray near Harris’ home, where the woman gave him oral sex.
Harris agreed there had been a “high risk” of their being seen.
A fourth time she performed oral sex on him in a carpark by a motorway, and a fifth time she fondled him at his daughter Bindi’s house in Devon while the three of them were sitting under a blanket on a couch watching television.
Harris said Bindi wouldn’t have noticed because “we were watching a very gripping television program”. Later that night he walked naked across the corridor into the woman’s bedroom, to find her naked. Again neither of them spoke – “we were aware there was something in the air”, Harris said – until afterwards when he was worried about cleaning the sheets on the bed.
Ms Wass said the relationship was not a deep or meaningful one.
Harris said their relationship “stemmed from a feeling of love” but he hadn’t been in love with her and he wouldn’t call it a love affair – there was “a natural feeling of warmth and affection” and flirtation had developed into a sexual relationship after she turned 18.
But Ms Wass said friendships were “based on something in common – [but] she was just there for sex, by your account”.
“It would seem so,” Harris said.
The day ended with a brief appearance by the “King of Pantomime” Paul Elliott, who said he had produced more than 450 pantomimes in his career.
He said he kept most actors at arms length but Harris had become a friend.
Harris was a “warm, bubbly, jolly, incredibly hard worker”, he said, and he had never seen or heard of him doing anything inappropriate with the young girls and women in the pantomimes he had hired Harris to act in.
Harris’ big cuddles were warm and friendly, and would always come with a laugh and a joke, Mr Elliott said.
Asked if hearing of Harris’ extramarital affairs changed his opinion of the man, he said “no”.
Mr Harris will return for another day of cross-examination on Thursday.
The trial at Southwark Crown Court before Mr Justice Sweeney continues.