Choir parents told: Look out for him
Defaced: A plaque laid in 1988 in the pavement in Bassendean Parade has been vandalised. Picture: Seven News

When Murdoch University Associate Professor Guy Hall and his wife Lucy Dow heard on the news that an Australian entertainer had been arrested in Britain on sex offences, they immediately guessed who it was.

Professor Hall is a criminologist and Ms Dow a clinical psychologist - but it wasn't their professional insights that led them to the conclusion that it was Rolf Harris.

In 2004, their son was in the WA Children's Choir and Professor Hall was the amateur singing group's president when they had a chance to share a stage in Joondalup with Harris for an Australia Day concert.

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The excitement of performing with a big star soon turned to "a feeling it was all a bit yuck", Professor Hall recalled. "I was the president and there were a number of parents who would look after the choristers backstage - supervising, keeping the kids quiet, making sure they went on stage correctly, those kinds of things," he said.

"This time, I was not one of the ones involved in the supervision, I was in the audience.

"We were speaking to them and one of them said, 'You've got to watch out for him, his hands are everywhere. He's like an octopus'."

Professor Hall said there were teenage girls in the choir and "it was about the girls that the concerns were most noted.

"They hovered around and didn't leave the backstage. His hands were everywhere, according to them.

"The degree of groping could have been like people have said - he was really a cuddly-type person but obviously these two women independently of each other had come to the conclusion that the cuddly-type person's behaviour was a bit yuck.

"They were a bit more protective."

Yesterday, there was a reaction of shock by many, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, that one of Australia's best-loved entertainers could have been sexually abusing victims for decades.

There were more revelations by people who had witnessed and experienced Harris' behaviour over many years and had not come forward to report it.

Professor Hall is a member of the WA Parole Board and has extensively studied sex offenders in WA prisons but, like so many who knew of the star's inappropriate behaviour, he said it never occurred to him that Harris was sexually abusing girls.

"I put it down to him being a silly old fart and a bit exuberant but never did I expect that he would be a sex offender like that," he said.

"The vast bulk of people who are a bit gropey don't take it any further."

Professor Hall said he was appalled by the aggressive attacks on the victims' credibility at the London trial by Harris' lawyers, who claimed they had made up the allegations for personal gain.

He was concerned that such high-profile cases could contribute to the under- reporting of sexual crimes in WA, which had a similar legal system.

An Australian Institute of Criminology report estimated that less than 30 per cent of sexual assaults and related offences were reported to police. "Adult victims in particular would be watching this trial and how the victims have been treated in the witness box," Professor Halls said.

"There is a little bit more protection for children but not so for adult witnesses. The whole idea is to reduce their credibility. A clever lawyer will reduce someone to tears but it's got nothing to do with veracity, whether or not they're telling the truth."

Professor Hall said even though conviction had been secured, the nature of the adversarial, punitive system was a deterrent for victims to come forward.

"Either way, it's hell for victims," he said. "They will still wonder whether or not it was worth it. They will wonder whether the consequences of dealing with a crime like this are worth the heartache, particularly if a person is found not guilty but even if they are convicted.

"What is it that the victim suddenly gets out of it? There's no doubt that if victims are identified in these circumstances, people would vilify her for having this great icon die in prison.

"She would get vilified for it and that is no different than if it was a family member, then people would say to her, 'How dare you do that to your stepfather, your grandfather, your uncle, your brother'. Look what you've done, you've ruined your family's life."

WA Police Minister Liza Harvey said Harris' conviction was a sad day for the State and urged any more victims to contact police.

"It's a very sad day for Western Australia to see someone as high profile as that has been engaged in such awful activity," she said. "If there are any victims who say they have been a victim of assault from anybody in the community, please contact police."

The West Australian

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