Decades of abuse catch up with The Octopus
Rolf Harris, the entertainer in the early years.

Decades of molesting and groping women have finally caught up with Rolf Harris.

Known in media circles for decades as "The Octopus", now his fans have had a glimpse of the "dark side" of the fun-loving and talented boy from Bassendean.

He is just the latest of a string of British celebrities whose prime was in a different era - of unanswerable Mad Men-style sexism, of too readily accepted molestation - whose past has come back to haunt them.

Seventeen mostly high-profile men have been arrested by Operation Yewtree - the investigation established by London's Metropolitan Police after the posthumous revelations in 2012 that entertainer Jimmy Savile had abused about 400 children.

Nine men have been charged with sexual offences.

Celebrity agent Max Clifford is already in jail for eight indecent assaults. A former BBC driver committed suicide before he could be tried. Singer Gary Glitter is back before the court on more charges. Several other men are still on bail.

The reputations of radio presenter David Lee Travers, who was acquitted, and comedian Freddie Starr, who was arrested four times but has not been charged, have been trashed.

It is now 20 months since Harris was first interviewed by Yewtree officers. After a protracted and at times embarrassing six weeks in the dock, Harris now has another arduous wait, while Justice Nigel Sweeney decides the 84-year-old's sentence. Harris is looking at a potential two years jail for each count.

During her evidence Bindi Nicholls told the court she was worried the stress of the trial would be the death of her famous father. She must now be worried he will die in prison.

It was in the shadow of the Savile revelations - but not because of them - that Bindi's childhood best friend came forward with her allegations she had been molested and sexually groomed by Harris from age 13.

Initially the British press printed only that a celebrity had been interviewed by Yewtree officers but they did not name him.

Rolf Harris and family swamped by media after the guilty verdict.

But after Rupert Murdoch's The Sun decided to publish what everyone in the media already knew - that it was Rolf Harris - more women came forward with their allegations.

The resulting investigation took police to Australia last year.

They interviewed a woman who did not end up being a part of the trial. It was while they were in Australia, they uncovered Tonya Lee - the 43-year-old Wollongong woman who was assaulted by Harris in a London pub when she was 14.

Ms Lee hired publicist Max Markson and sold her story to Channel 9's A Current Affair and Women's Day magazine for $60,000. Despite Ms Lee's admission she lied to police about her deal with the media - and despite the best efforts of defence counsel Sonia Woodley to paint Ms Lee as someone who was in it for the money - the jury found Harris guilty on all three charges.

In all, the court would hear from 10 women who said they had been assaulted, and one man - Tony Porter - who said he witnessed Harris grope the breasts of a make-up artist in about 1983.

The extent of his groping was a truly global affair. The court heard from a woman who claimed Harris slid his hand between her legs on the dance floor of a New Zealand restaurant in 1970 when she was 16.

An 18-year-old British woman on holiday in Malta in that same year thought she was "going to be raped" by the entertainer when he shuffled her into a side room and put his hand inside her knickers.

In Australia in 1986, he was said to have groped a 20-year-old Channel 7 make-up artist during a day of filming. In 1991 he was said to have groped a 15-year-old girl in a NSW hardware store, before rubbing his crotch against her mother's buttocks.

Prosecutor Sasha Wass said Harris had "treated young women and girls like objects to be groped". The similarities between the stories of the 10 women were "so striking that the chances of any of them inventing such similar accounts in the absence of knowing each other was absurd", she said. In his summing up, Justice Nigel Sweeney had provided the jury with a "schedule" outlining the eight similarities between the various assaults. For each count, each similarity was marked with an asterisk if it was present.

Was the victim under 16? Did they meet him in as a celebrity? Had they been unable to physically escape? Did it start with a bear hug? Did it swiftly move to indecent assault? Was there digital penetration? Were other people nearby when it happened? And afterwards, did Harris act as if nothing had happened?

Several of those features, including a bear hug followed by digital penetration, were common to the assaults against Ms Lee and the initial incidents with Bindi's best friend.

The friend - who cannot be named - said she was 13 and on holiday in Hawaii with the Harrises when the entertainer first sexually assaulted her. She said she discovered him waiting in her hotel room when she came out of the shower and wrapped only in a towel.

That was 1978 and for the next 16 years, on disparate occasions, the entertainer assaulted her.

Harris was not charged over that allegation, or those said to have happened a few weeks later at the Harris family's Australian home in Bassendean, because they happened outside Britain.

But he was charged over seven other assaults, four of digital penetration and two of oral sex while the girl was under 16, and one of touching her breasts when she was 19. He was found guilty on all charges.

Harris had argued his relationship with the woman was consensual and started after age 18.

But as early as 1997 the woman had revealed to her family that she had been abused by Harris since her early teens. On discovering this, Harris wrote to the woman's father a letter claiming the relationship had started from a place of love and friendship.

That claim was shot down by the prosecution. There had been no love, Ms Wass said. The sex was opportunistic, infrequent, almost "gynaecological" in its manner. The pair, she said, never spoke between incidents of sexual contact - the "relationship" had none of the usual frisson expected of an extramarital liaison.

They never even spoke at the time of the incidents.

Harris acknowledged in the witness stand that the first conversation he could remember having with the woman during a sexual instance was when he prematurely ejaculated while attempting to have penetrative sex with the woman at Bindi's house in Devon.

"Your relationship has been sexual for 10 years and the first conversation you can remember is about cleaning your sperm off the sheets," Ms Wass told him.

During the trial, Harris gave four separate accounts of his "affair" with the woman ending.

First, that she had been extremely angry that he had called it off and second, that it had fizzled out.

Then he argued the woman had needed to find someone to blame for her alcohol abuse and finally, that she had been jealous after finding out he was having an affair with a spiritual healer.

The prosecution had insisted throughout the trial that Harris had invented "smokescreen" and "red herring" explanations for why all 10 women had lied in court. Clearly, the jury did not buy it.

He treated young women and girls like objects to be groped."

The West Australian

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