Disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris, who became one of the UK’s biggest TV stars but was later jailed for using his fame to groom and assault young women, has died after a long illness, aged 93.
His death was confirmed by a registrar at the town hall in Maidenhead, where he lived.
Harris was jailed for sexual assaults on young girls, one a childhood friend of his daughter, another an autograph hunter.
He denied all the accusations but was convicted after a high-profile trial of a dozen historical indecent assaults against four girls and four charges of producing indecent child images. It wrecked his career and ruined his reputation.
Sentencing him in 2014 to five years and nine months in prison, the judge said Harris had taken advantage of his celebrity status and shown no remorse.
Harris arrived in Britain aged 22 from his native Australia in 1953 and became a national treasure who had several of his own TV series, and appeared as a guest on many others from the 1960s onwards.
He had a string of hits with songs such as Jake the Peg, Two Little Boys, and Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport. He also appeared several times at Glastonbury Festival.
He was awarded many honours, including an MBE, OBE and CBE, a BAFTA fellowship and honorary university doctorates, all of which were revoked after his conviction.
Queen Elizabeth II sat for him for an 80th birthday portrait which was hung in Buckingham Palace.
‘He had a darker side to him’
Leading publicist Mark Borkowski said: “When the accusations sank in you began to feel cheated, that all those emotions you’ve had for an icon were false.
“He had a darker side to him that overshadowed all the fun and games he had broadcast for decades.
“People will remember him as an entertainer, unique, [who] lived in the heart of the nation and was good at reinventing himself – but he will be remembered for his crimes.”
Harris, married with a daughter, was among a dozen celebrities arrested during Operation Yewtree, one of a series of police investigations into historical sex abuse allegations against high-profile figures – including BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, a prolific sex offender exposed only after his death.
At the start of his trial, the prosecutor described Harris as “a Jekyll and Hyde” character with a hidden dark side to his personality.
A childhood friend of his daughter Bindi was his main victim, telling the jury he had groomed and indecently assaulted her repeatedly between the ages of 13 and 19, once when his daughter was asleep in the same room.
She called the police about Harris after the wide publicity surrounding Savile’s exposure, though there was no connection between the two men’s crimes.
Harris said he’d had a relationship with the woman but claimed it began after she turned 18. He later wrote to her father insisting nothing illegal had happened.
‘Parents believed their children were safe’
Mike Hames, former head of the Metropolitan Police’s paedophile squad, said: “Children loved him and parents were willing to leave their children with him because they believed they were safe.
“That’s the perfect way to operate from the point of view of a child abuser because they are able to get the child by themselves and because the child is in awe and most unlikely to say anything.”
Australian Tonya Lee, who waived her right to anonymity, said Harris abused her three times on one day when she was 15 and on a theatre group trip to the UK.
She later said she contemplated taking her own life because of the abuse.
Other victims told the court that he touched or groped them, sometimes at public events or charity performances.
Jurors were also told of indecent assaults on women in Australia, New Zealand, and Malta – although Harris wasn’t charged with overseas crimes.
Peter Watt, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), said the charity had helped police build the case against Harris after 28 calls to its helpline, including 13 women who said he had abused them.
Mr Watt said after Harris’s conviction: “His reckless and brazen sexual offending, sometimes in public places, bizarrely within sight of people he knew, speaks volumes about just how untouchable he thought he was.”
Wife stood by him in final years
In 2015, Harris was stripped of his CBE and of honours in his native Australia.
In 2017, while he was still in jail, he was put on trial a second time, over four allegations of indecent assault on three teenage girls. He denied the charges and was found not guilty after the jury failed to agree verdicts.
In a statement read out by his lawyer, Harris said: “I feel no sense of victory, only relief. I’m 87 years old, my wife is in ill health and we simply want to spend our remaining time together in peace.”
Harris was freed from jail halfway through his second trial after serving three years. One of his convictions was overturned on appeal.
He spent the rest of his days living reclusively with his sculptor wife Alwen, who had stood by him, at the couple’s Thames riverside home in Berkshire.