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The final act of Rolf Harris' harrowing courtroom drama

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Rolf Harris jailed for nearly six years

Veteran entertainer Rold Harris leaves Southwark Crown Court in a van after being jailed for almost six years for sexually assaulting young girls.

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London: After two months of lead-up, it was a moment of anticlimax. 

It was a useful reminder: Rolf Harris might be an entertainer, but this has not been a show. It has been grim reality.

Mr Justice Nigel Sweeney, an oddly charismatic judge with a conversational style, raised his voice into lecture mode for his sentencing remarks, and proceeded to tell Harris off in headmasterly style.

Rolf Harris arrives for sentencing with his daughter Bindi (left) and niece Jenny.

Rolf Harris arrives for sentencing with his daughter Bindi (left) and niece Jenny. Photo: Reuters

“You have no-one to blame but yourself,” he admonished Harris, who slumped in the dock stony-faced, wearing the same tie he wore six years ago to receive his ARIA hall of fame award that has now been revoked.

“You took advantage of the trust placed in you,” Sweeney continued, still in his private school form room persona. “You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all. Your reputation now lies in ruins, you have been stripped of your honours but you have no one to blame but yourself.”

In front of a silent, packed courtroom 2 at Southwark Crown Court, Sweeney reiterated the base, gynaecological, shocking facts of the case.

Count one, Harris’ hand went here, and “you took her childhood innocence”.

Count two, he groped there, and “he treated me like a toy that he played with for his own pleasure".

Count three, he spat on his fingers. Count four, again. Counts five and six, same again, in his daughter’s own bedroom, in an extraordinary breach of trust to almost anyone you could name. Counts seven and eight, again, graphic details of Harris’ abuse of the main complainant even as he was “keeping an eye on Bindi” asleep in the next bed.

Count nine in a swimming pool, and again with the graphic details.

And finally Tonya Lee, the Australian who had dreamed of an acting career. Instead, her star role was summarised as a sordid tale of groping and tights and… and so on.

Sweeney reread Lee’s victim impact statement.

“What Rolf Harris took from me was my self belief and more so the ability to feel safe… What Mr Harris took from me was my very essence.”

The court was silent. Harris a motionless centre, his family on one side, their faces set and grim, his lawyers taking notes and frowning, his public relations team thinking who knows what. The invisible 3G frequencies were thick with the Tweets of the waiting media.

And then what they were waiting for unraveled.

Mr Justice Sweeney had explained, matter of factly, that his hands were tied.

Despite the “severe psychological injury” Harris had caused, despite each victim impact statement that Sweeney had made a point of saying “I believe to be true”, despite the fact that Harris’ assaults had led to alcoholism, anger, the death of aspirations, shame, guilt, the loss of innocence, physical and mental pain, family trauma and the trauma of revisiting it all in a courtroom…

“The equivalent offences today attract significantly higher maximum sentences,” Mr Justice Sweeney said. The subtext was: there was nothing he could do. A few decades ago, society just didn’t care as much.

He was bound by convention. The theoretical maximum sentences, already low, must be lowered further, because of the possibility that Rolf Harris could have behaved even worse, or not done as many good deeds.

The numbers were crunched, and the result came out.

“Please stand,” Mr Justice Sweeney said.

Harris did.

“The total sentence is therefore one of 5 years and nine months’ imprisonment.”

“Unless released earlier, you will serve half that sentence when you will be released on licence for the remainder of the sentence.”

A few moments later, with a few loose ends tied up: "You may take him down," Mr Justice Sweeney told the court officers in the dock with Harris.

Harris stood, buttoned up his coat and left the room.

The energy in the room dissipated. After all we had heard over two harrowing months, Rolf Harris would spend a few years in prison. No more, no less.

This was a song without a punchline. Just a fading out to silence.

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