Rolf Harris likely free in three

Entertainer’s light sentence draws criticism and civil claims may follow

Rolf Harris arriving at his sentencing. Photo / AP
Rolf Harris arriving at his sentencing. Photo / AP

Rolf Harris has spent his first night in a London jail as child advocates in Australia criticised the sex offender's sentence as too lenient.

The 84-year-old was immediately sent to Wandsworth Prison in southwest London after being sentenced to five years and nine months' jail for a string of indecent assaults against four girls in the UK.

He'll only have to serve half that sentence, however, meaning he'll be released in less than three years.

Former Hey Dad! star and Bravehearts ambassador, Sarah Monahan, criticised the sentence as "way too light".

"It saddens me you get more time for money offences than you do for crimes against children," she wrote on her Facebook page.

Monahan said the parallels between the Harris sentencing and that of Australian actor Robert Hughes — her on-screen father who assaulted her and three other young girls during the 1980s and 1990s — "astound me".

Hughes was sentenced in May to 10 years and nine months' jail but could be released in six years.

In sentencing Harris at Southwark Crown Court on Friday, Justice Nigel Sweeney said: "You have shown no remorse for your crimes at all."

Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston said that was to be expected. "The remorse would be a lie anyway," Johnston told AAP.

"It's a selfish act to hurt a child. You can't do it unless you have a lack of empathy. He's ignorant, self-absorbed and an egomaniac. I think his victims feel vindicated. I don't think they expected remorse from a man like him."

Video: Rolf Harris jailed for sex assaults

Harris may also face a raft of damages claims in the civil courts.

Justice Sweeney said he wouldn't consider compensation because assessing the psychological harm to the victims was a complex process.

After Harris was sentenced, one of the four victims in the case said she felt "very sad" that he continued to deny his crimes.

The woman, now 52, was groped at Cambridge in 1978 when she was working as a waitress at a celebrity sporting event.

"He knows in his heart of hearts that he did these things," she said. "I would have liked him to hold up his hand and say 'fair cop, I have done these things'. "But he's a nasty man who took advantage of his position, exploited that to the utmost, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised."

The man leading the child sex abuse royal commission in Australia says Harris' conviction in London is likely to encourage more victims to come forward.

Read also: Maggie Barry: I was groped by Rolf Harris; New Kiwi victims emerge

Before sentencing, Harris' barrister pleaded for leniency due to the fact he was 84. "He is already on borrowed time," Sonia Woodley QC told the court. "Every day, every month in prison will shorten his life."

Harris' sentence on Friday was immediately referred to UK Attorney-General Dominic Grieve under the "unduly lenient sentence scheme". The attorney-general has a month to decide whether to send the case to the Court of Appeal which could increase the length of his imprisonment.


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