Rolf Harris verdict: Family put up show of unity

By David Barrett

The Harris family was accused of making staged entrances at Southwark Crown Court, as if to present a united front for the benefit of the media.

Rolf Harris would walk into the building each morning accompanied by his wife of more than 50 years. Harris met Alwen Hughes, a sculptor with whom he was at art school, in 1958. She remains a well-regarded artist and is known for her flamboyant personal style, wearing bright colours and beaded hairstyles.

She suffers from arthritis and has difficulty walking - often being seen with a stick or furled umbrella for support. Harris was forced to admit publicly how his wife had been devastated by his sexual indiscretions, including a fling with a woman in her mid-30s who stayed with the couple as a housekeeper and driver in the mid-90s. Each day at court the Harris family group would also include their daughter and, sometimes Harris' niece Jenny.

Somewhat marring the homely image were several private security guards who also accompanied the family but attempted, unsuccessfully, to blur into the background.

It is not unusual for a defendant facing charges of sexual impropriety to attempt to present themselves in the best possible light. But in Harris' case his travel arrangements and the very public attempt to massage his image actually became part of the evidence in the trial. During her time on the witness stand Bindi Nicholls, Harris' daughter, under questioning from Sasha Wass, QC, prosecuting, admitted the family actually travelled to Southwark separately each day. "My husband takes me to my dad's manager's house. We then get the Tube ... to London Bridge, then I go to the coffee shop, then when mum and dad get here, I go down and sit in the car, then we drive round and then we get out and have photos taken by the press and then I sit in the cafe all day."

Wass asked: "So the whole thing is effectively staged?"

Bindi replied: "No, it's just I want to be there for my mum and dad and I want to be seen to be."

For the most part Alwen, who relies heavily on her husband for support after hip surgery, looked as if she was in a world of her own as the evidence against her husband unfolded.

A public show of support for Harris from his daughter may have been motivated by her desire to discover whether she would inherit the entertainer's 11 million ($21.5 million) fortune, prosecutors allege.

She has described inheriting the money as "winning the lottery". Prosecutors produced an email, sent from Bindi Nicholls to her father less than two years ago, in which she told of her money problems and asked him: "I understand that I am sole inheritor of your estate - is this true?"

Harris could now face a string of compensation claims from his victims. However, recent reports suggest that he may have taken steps to move assets out of his name, diminishing his apparent wealth.

Nicholls, 50, admitted during the trial that her relationship with Harris was deeply fractured, with his behaviour at home at variance with his lively public persona. She said: "Dad didn't really take much notice of me or anybody at home." She described how he "switched off" when the television cameras stopped rolling, preferring to work quietly alone rather than spend time with his family.

When she came to give evidence at the trial, Nicholls turned on a former friend who was the main prosecution witness. Nicholls defended her father and described claims that he had abused her friend from the age of 13 as laughable. Nicholls also dismissed suggestions that the victim had developed an alcohol problem as a teenager as a result of the abuse.

It was put to Nicholls in court that she was financially dependent on her father and was colluding with him to back up his evidence - an allegation that she denied. She said of giving evidence: "This isn't about me helping my father. This is about telling the truth."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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