The truth behind the Rolf Harris trial

OPINION: I was first introduced to Rolf Harris by my dad, when I was barely eight years old. He performed 'Jake The Peg', complete with the fifth limb, at a variety night in the NSW country town where I grew up.

OPINION: "What he actually did": The truth behind the Rolf Harris trial

Rolf Harris is set to be jailed on Friday.

Dad used his Driza-Bone to hide the skilful manoeuvring it took to control that 'third leg', and everyone thought it was a real hoot.

Such was the power of Rolf Harris' global celebrity status, my father, a man in his 40's with three young sons thought that harmless act was a great way for people to forget the dramas of life on the land one night at the local RSL. And it was, then.

Remarkably, it is not dissimilar to one of the now 84-year-old's defences at his indecent assault trial in London.

He stood accused of groping a seven-year-old girl, who had simply lined up to get his autograph when Harris visited her local community centre in Portsmouth. It was 1968, and 'Two Little Boys' was enjoying a record run at number 1 in the UK charts. She remembers Rolf singing it on stage.

Harris was at one of the many peaks of his fame. And for that reason, Harris said he wasn't there in Portsmouth. Why would a hugely popular celebrity like him need to go to a tiny suburban event to sell his already hit song? He was too much of a star. It must have been someone else he said. Someone else performing the song for the kids, latching onto his success, and the girl must have been mistaken.

Rolf Harris plays the Wobble Board during a literary lunch in 2008. Photo: Getty

But she wasn't, the court has proven.

Rolf Harris, surrounded by other children, indecently assaulted her not once but twice. Something we now know he did multiple times, to multiple women.

I've been at almost every day of his trial in London. It hasn't been comfortable. I, and all the other journalists, haven't reported the truly vial and hauntingly disturbing nature of Rolf Harris' sick behaviour in detail. What he actually did to his victims is not fit for print or broadcast. We've instead relied on broad terms like 'grope' and 'sex act'.

His family, including his wife Alwen, listened to lawyers, victims, and witnesses recounting those terrible stories multiple times. They stood by their man publicly on that regular slow walk into court. Inside, they would stick together too, bringing packed lunches, and relying on books and iPads to pass the downtime in the court cafeteria.

Rolf Harris leaves court holding the hands of his wife Alwen Hughes (left) and daughter Bindi Harris (right) of 12 indecent assault charges. Photo: Getty

Far from the charismatic performer that charmed audiences across the world for decades, Harris shuffled around the court complex, looking to me, as not just a 'dirty old man', but also a 'sad old man'. He knew what he had done.

His is a sad story on so many levels.

Beyond sad, more devastating, for his victims, whose lives he has ruined.

Sad for his family, for if they did not know of his actions, they have seen their beloved Rolf publicly and deservedly, shamed. And soon to be jailed.

And sad, too, for as us an audience. We were duped by his performance for so long. Fooled into believing he was the wholesome Aussie lad from Perth who'd just happen to make it big in Britain, with a mix of Aussie wit, unique art, and folksy songs.

Rolf Harris sang 'Jake The Peg' on day one of his testimony to remind us of that glittering career. I rang my Dad and recounted that night at the local RSL. I suggested there won't be a repeat performance from him, and he agreed.

Rolf is a dirty word now. Now that we know the truth.

A mugshot of convicted paedophile Rolf Harris. Photo: Supplied

  • Hugh Whitfeld has covered the Rolf Harris case for Seven News and Sunrise since May 2013. He is the Seven Network's Europe Correspondent.
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