Rolf Harris trial: Entertainer denies 'ludicrous' assault claims

David Sillito reports from Southwark Crown Court as Rolf Harris starts giving evidence

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TV entertainer Rolf Harris has denied a string of allegations that he indecently assaulted four girls, including a friend of his daughter.

Mr Harris told Southwark Crown Court he was a "touchy feely sort of person" but said a claim he performed a sex act on his daughter's friend when she was 13 was "ludicrous".

He also denied even being at the scene for some of the other allegations.

The 84-year-old denies 12 indecent assaults between 1968 and 1986.

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In court
Rolf Harris

Sangita Myska, BBC News

As Rolf Harris took to the stand for the first time the tone of his evidence - over the course of five hours - changed dramatically.

The day began with the entertainer, choosing to stand in the dock to give a rundown of his illustrious career during which he was appointed an OBE, MBE and CBE, and received an invitation to paint the Queen. He also recalled his anecdote of how he accidentally invented a musical instrument - the wobble board. And he even sang a line from his novelty 1960s hit Jake the Peg to the jury.

An hour later, the entertainer was sitting down to, calmly and persistently, deny claims he had groomed his daughter's 13-year-old friend on a family holiday.

Instead he emphatically told the jury it was she who had instigated a sexual relationship between them - when she was 18 and he was 53. He went on to describe the deep embarrassment caused at talking about the alleged affair because he was a married man and that it was at odds with the general public's moral code.

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'Bare legs'

One woman alleges she was assaulted during an appearance by Mr Harris at the Leigh Park Community Centre in Havant, Hampshire, in 1969.

But Mr Harris said he had never been to the centre, and said he "remembered very clearly" he had been filming a TV series, "Rolf's Walkabout" in the Australian outback at the time.

The woman also said in evidence that Mr Harris had hairy hands, but Mr Harris showed his hands to the jury and denied they were hairy.

Mr Harris told Southwark Crown Court he also denied having visited Cambridge - where he is accused of attacking a 14-year old-girl in 1975 - until three years ago.

And the jury was shown several copies of Canadian newspapers which stated he was playing a concert in Toronto around the time of the alleged attack.

Asked about an allegation made during the trial that he assaulted his daughter's friend after she came out of the shower while on holiday in 1978 when she was 13, Mr Harris said: "Nope, didn't happen." This alleged assault would have happened before such offences abroad could be prosecuted in the UK, so is not among the charges against Mr Harris.

Mr Harris told the jury how on a later occasion when the alleged victim was an adult, during another visit to his family home, he had taken a cup of tea to her in the morning.

He said she "kicked the duvet off the bed" revealing her bare legs.

Mr Harris said she became "flirtatious" with him, saying: "It was a very flattering feeling for this young lady to be showing an interest in me."

Mr Harris told the jury he touched the outside of her leg, he said: "I can remember my heart was thumping away like mad. I didn't know what to do, I left the room."

He said that on a subsequent visit to her home he had performed a sex act on her, but said it was consensual.

Asked how he felt when he started the relationship, Mr Harris said: "Illicit and a guilty feeling."

Mr Harris said that after further sexual encounters" between them, the relationship later "ground to a halt" and "ended in a very acrimonious way".

He said he had at one stage met the alleged victim at a pub in Norfolk, and that she had asked for £25,000 for an animal sanctuary and threatened to go to the newspapers about their affair when he refused.

Rolf Harris

"It was like the sword of Damocles hanging over me, I kept waiting each weekend for a newspaper to destroy me," he said.

Mr Harris said during the same visit the woman had become very "irate", and at one point, while they were both in a car, she had got out of her seat and started beating him with clenched fists in the face.

He also said he had received a letter from the woman's father.

"I burned the letter almost immediately. He was saying I was disgusting, he didn't want to see me or hear from me ever again," Mr Harris said.

The alleged victim is the subject of seven of the 12 charges Mr Harris faces, including six alleged assaults when she was aged 16 or under.

The court also heard on Tuesday that Mr Harris had been drawing sketches in the dock during his trial. Although judge Mr Justice Sweeney ruled that the sketches were "innocent", they have since been destroyed.

Jake the Peg

At the start of his evidence, Mr Harris outlined his early life in Australia and spoke of his talent as a swimmer before he contracted an infection which left him temporarily paralysed.

After arriving in London in March 1952, aged 22, the entertainer said he got his break in television in 1953, and was signed up by the BBC a year later.

The jury heard how he had invented the wobble board instrument in 1959 while coating a portrait painted on a piece of hardboard with turpentine.

Mr Harris also gave details of his musical recordings and sang a section of his song Jake the Peg to the jury, and demonstrated the sounds made by a didgeridoo.

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