Veteran Australian entertainer Rolf Harris has been sentenced to five years and nine months in jail but will be eligible for release after serving half of that term for the sexual assault of four girls aged between eight and 19 in a dramatic sentencing hearing in London overnight.
In a sensational climax to the trial of the former popular showman, Harris received a blistering rebuke from judge Nigel Sweeney who told him he had shown ‘‘no remorse’’.
‘‘You have done many good and charitable works ... but the verdicts of the jury show that in the period of 1969 to 1986 you were also a sex offender.
‘‘You took advantage of the trust placed in you because of your celebrity status to commit the offences against three of your victims. (In another) you committed (the offence) in breach of the trust her parents placed in you.
‘‘You clearly got a thrill from committing the offences while others were present or nearby. Your reputation now is in tatters ... you have been stripped of your honours and you have no-one to blame but yourself.’’
In detailing his sentence, the judge said he had ‘‘caused psychological damage’’ and the alcoholism of one victim and that ‘‘you took her childhood innocence’’ of another.
While he sentenced Harris to terms ranging from 6 months to 15 months on the 12 counts, many of them were to be served concurrently. Justice Sweeney said he would have imposed a higher sentence but was constrained by the law as it was at the time of the offences.
The judge said there were factors to be considered in mitigating the term, including his wife’s Alwen’s ill health, and the ability to spend the twilight years of his life with his family.
Harris showed no emotion as the sentence was read.
Earlier, the court was read victim impact statements from all four of Harris’ victims.
The main complainant said that as a young girl she ‘‘had aspirations to have a career, settle down and have a family.
‘‘However, as a direct result of his actions, this has never materialised ... Rolf Harris had a hold over me that made me a quivering wreck.’’
One of Harris’ victims, Miss P, was present in court for the sentencing, according to some media reports. During the trial she gave evidence from behind a curtain.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass, QC, said in light of the unanimous guilty verdicts, police would not continue to press four child pornography charges against Harris, relating to images found on his computer when his house was raided in 2012.
Sonia Woodley, QC, Harris’ counsel, said the court had heard of the entertainer’s ‘‘dark side’’ - but ‘‘it would be unfair to ignore the good he has done in his life’’.
Apart from the main complainant, the assaults he had been found guilty of were ‘‘brief and opportunistic rather than predatory’’, she said.
She conceded that there had been a ‘‘breach of trust’’ by Harris – with a family friend in the case of the main complainant, and as a celebrity in relation to the others. But she asked the judge to treat with caution Tonya Lee’s statement ‘‘placing all the blame for the problems in her life on the defendant’’.
‘‘The defendant has to be punished for the offences of which he has been convicted,’’ she said – but not the other claims that had been brought against him.
The court had been provided with a medical report which Ms Woodley said showed that a prison term would shorten his life.
‘‘He is already on borrowed time,’’ she said. The sentence would have a bigger impact on him than it would on a younger, healthier man.
‘‘He has a limited lifespan left that will be diminished by a prison sentence due to the state of his health,’’ Ms Woodley said. ‘‘Every day, every month in prison is going to shorten his life.’’
Since the arrest he had become a virtual prisoner in his home and since the verdict he had been publicly shamed and stripped of his honours.
His wife Alwen’s serious health problems – which had become worse during the trial – were his ‘‘utmost concern’’, Ms Woodley said, and he had become her primary carer.
‘‘The defendant has looked after her with love and devotion,’’ she said.
She asked the court to impose a sentence that ‘‘will give him some hope of a future, so he will be able to spend the remaining twilight years of his life with his family.’’
Rolf Harris had left his home by boat and brought a brightly-coloured striped suitcase to court, in anticipation of his leaving for prison. His Alwen did not come to court for the sentencing. She had been present for most of the trial including the verdict. Harris’ PR team said she was unable to attend due to her arthritis.
Mr Justice Sweeney said legal authority was ‘‘tough’’ on taking ill health into account when sentencing, but he took the point that Harris’ ill health meant the effect of any prison sentence would be greater.
Mr Justice Sweeney told Mr Harris to stand to hear the total sentence imposed of five years and nine months imprisonment, of which he must serve at least a half until he can be released on licence.
"You may take him down," Mr Justice Sweeney told the court officers in the dock with Harris.
Harris stood, buttoned up his coat and left the dock.