Rolf Harris trial: Wollongong woman gives evidence

Entertainer Rolf Harris arrives with his daughter Bindi and wife Alwen Hughes at Southwark Crown Court in London May 20. Picture: REUTERS/Andrew Winning
Entertainer Rolf Harris arrives with his daughter Bindi and wife Alwen Hughes at Southwark Crown Court in London May 20. Picture: REUTERS/Andrew Winning

A Wollongong woman who claimed she was sexually assaulted by Rolf Harris has been accused of inventing her story in order to make money from media interviews, as the aged children entertainer's trial continues in the UK.

Harris, 84, has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges of indecent assault against four complainants.

The last three of the charges relate to Wollongong's Tonya Lee, 43, who gave evidence from behind a curtain.

She told a court on Tuesday she had just begun a "dream" trip to London as a 15 year-old with a youth theatre group in 1986 when Harris invited her to sit on his knee in a London pub, then sexually abused her.

He attacked her again outside the pub bathroom, she said.

However, on Wednesday Ms Lee admitted she was partly wrong in her recollection, after being shown an itinerary of the tour that showed Harris had visited the pub with the troupe close to the end of the tour after weeks of travel around Britain.

"I can see that … my dates were wrong," Ms Lee said.

She also admitted that she must have been wrong in her original evidence that the attack triggered anorexia and bulimia that caused her to lose up to six kilograms by the end of the tour.

"Obviously I can't blame Rolf Harris," she said. "[The night at the pub] happened at the end of the tour, I can see that here."

Ms Woodley accused Ms Lee of inventing an account of a sexual assault by Harris because she was in debt and wanted money from media interviews.

"There was no physical interaction between you and Rolf Harris and there was no sexual touching by him of any kind at all," Ms Woodley said.

"That's incorrect," Ms Lee said.

"I know what happened to me … both assaults occurred," she told prosecutor Sasha Wass, QC.

Crying, she said she wanted her evidence to give strength to others to speak out about sexual assault.

Ms Woodley also cast doubt on Ms Lee's claim that the attack caused her to give up on her acting ambitions.

Soon after returning from the tour she auditioned for, she won a role in an ABC TV pilot called TV Hackers, Ms Woodley said. She also appeared in a big theatre show at the end of the year.

Ms Woodley questioned Ms Lee closely over her $60,000 media deal, negotiated by agent Max Markson in May last year, with Woman's Day and A Current Affair.

Ms Lee confirmed that she had several debts of more than $10,000 at the time she told her story to police and the media.

"You exaggerated to make a better story," Ms Woodley said.

Ms Lee insisted her main aim all along was to talk to police about the attack by Harris.

Her account of the assaults was partially backed up by the statements of other witnesses – including two tour group members who remembered someone sitting on Harris' lap at the pub, and Cathy Henkel from the theatre company who remembered it was Ms Lee sitting on his lap. However none saw anything untoward.

Ms Henkel said she had been phoned by Harris' brother Bruce in May last year, after Ms Lee's claims were made public.

"He was asking me about the incident and whether I could recall what had happened. I told him what I knew. He repeatedly said, 'That couldn't have happened, could it?' I felt pressured to say it couldn't have happened."

Ms Lee's brother told the court that about five years ago his sister had remarked to him that Harris was "a kiddy toucher or a kiddy fiddler" but he hadn't pursued it.

And an alcohol abuse counsellor said Ms Lee had confided in her some of the details of her abuse by Harris in late 2012, before he had been named in the media as a sexual assault suspect.

On a day of Aussie accents from the witness stand at the Rolf Harris trial, one strident complaint rang out from the pack.

"The dirty old man groped me all day, and I was really pissed off," said the witness, loudly, drawing a giggle from the onlookers at Southwark Crown Court.

She asked not to be named, but there was nothing shy about her evidence.

The short, feisty make-up artist told how she had been hired for a day's work at Channel Seven, where Harris was making a promo for a TV show.

She was wearing baggy cut-off denim shorts and, soon after she started to do his make-up, she felt his hand on her left leg, up under her shorts, over her bottom and up to her waist.

"He was really fast, it was slide hand up, slide hand down," she said. "I turned around and looked at the mirror. My first thought was 'Oh my God, I can't believe he works with children.'"

She had watched Harris on TV since she was a little girl.

"This was not what I had expected at all," she said.

She had to touch up his make-up regularly once he was out in the studio, and he did the same thing about two dozen times, she said.

She told the crew she was not happy and later complained to a female supervisor.

"I told her what had happened to me: 'The dirty old man groped me all day and I was really pissed off.'

"I found out [afterwards] from make-up artists he was called 'the octopus'," the witness said. "He was all hands."

Defence counsel Sonia Woodley, QC, put it to the witness that the encounter "simply didn't happen".

The witness just laughed in response.

The court also heard from Tony Porter, a retired Australian actor who had worked with Harris on his variety show Rolf about the same time.

He said he had seen Harris in a make-up chair when a make-up artist leaned over in front of him to do his face.

"Both arms shot up and he went to tickle her up … he went straight for her breasts," Porter said. "[He] made like a lascivious noise with his mouth."

Porter said it was clear from the woman's reaction she didn't welcome the approach.

Horseplay, innuendo and sexual suggestions were common between TV personalities and people in roles such as make-up, he said, but "it was totally unknown for someone to reach out and grab somebody's breasts … the first thing I said when I got home, I told my wife 'You'll never believe what I saw Rolf do tonight.'"

Ms Woodley asked Porter if he had been upset by Harris, and he said once Harris had come up to him when he was telling jokes to the TV show audience and said out of the side of his mouth: "Mate, I'll do the funny stuff, OK" and walked away – but he took it as a backhanded compliment.

Porter and the make-up artist were character witnesses for the prosecution case; their stories did not relate to specific charges against the entertainer.

The trial before Justice Nigel Sweeney continues.