SOME COMMENT must be made on the sentence handed down to disgraced Australian entertainer and paedophile Rolf Harris last night, Melbourne time; convicted of 12 historical charges of indecently assaulting under-age girls dating back to 1968 — and spared trial over at least another four of downloading child porn — Harris can consider himself lucky that he’s likely to get out of jail in three years. The scaffold would have been more appropriate.
It never ceases to amaze me that powerful and/or prominent figures like Rolf Harris — whose victims are just too bloody frightened to speak up for decades after the offences against them were committed, if ever at all — find all manner of excuses to put before a Court in “mitigation” of their offences once it’s clear an extended jail term is imminent.
Readers may recall that back in November, we talked about the disgusting case of Liam Adams (brother of Sinn Fein president, Gerry) who was convicted of ten child sex offences, including three rapes, committed against his own daughter when she was aged between four and nine years of age.
At the time, I lamented that “the son of a bitch ought to be hanged,” and whilst Rolf Harris might not have raped his own daughter, he did something not much less grotesque than that by grooming her best friend for sex, starting from when she was aged just 13, and indeed went on to have a “consensual” affair with this girl once she was old enough for Harris to believe he could escape charges of statutory rape.
Shrewd prosecution counsel in the case against Harris elicited an admission from him that he had admired his daughter’s friend “sexually” when he saw her in a bikini when she was 13: it isn’t difficult to ascertain his true motives.
Not when the case against him that has just concluded found him, on evidence, to be a recidivist sex offender against under-aged girls over a period of decades.
Not when additional complainants continue to come forward in the aftermath of the trial, some of whom have waived their right to anonymity, and as a result of which additional charges may yet be laid against Harris as he languishes in HM Wandsworth prison in the west of London.
And not when it is already publicly known that four further charges — emanating from Harris’ downloading child porn — have been contemplated and abandoned by the Crown on the basis they would not be in the public interest to pursue given Harris has already been convicted and will serve jail time as a result.
On balance, I’d say Harris was as much a candidate for the scaffold as Liam Adams was.
Harris received a total of five years and nine months in prison over the 12 charges a jury has already unanimously found him guilty of; the mix of penalties comprises some that are concurrent and some consecutive, but the headline period of incarceration is a steep discount on the 24 year maximum sentence he could have been slapped with.
Forget about his age — we will come back to that — but a quarter of the maximum sentence is a disgrace; the fact he will be eligible for release on licence after serving just half of even that is an unbridled outrage.
Does it matter, in the circumstances, that Harris was diagnosed with diabetes ten years ago? Does it matter that he suffered a “mini-stroke” that temporarily left him unable to “put words together?” Does it matter that he had two stents implanted to deal with coronary problems? As cold as it might sound to a compassion-babbling bleeding heart or a do-gooder chardonnay drunk, it doesn’t matter at all.
His defence barrister (as defence barristers are bound to do) offered up all kinds of other rationalisations as to why Harris should be shown mercy.
At 84 years of age, Harris is on “borrowed time;” every day in prison will shorten his life. That’s too bad; he ruined the lives of his victims, and his own doesn’t merit consideration now.
He “looks after his wife with devotion,” which is really good of him; in other words, he has actually shown human consideration for someone other than himself. But it doesn’t amend the reality that he couldn’t care less about the damage and human indignity he inflicted upon his victims.
Harris “has a good side,” it was said; most people do, or at the very least, exhibit behaviours and traits at least some of the time that can be described, on a literal interpretation, as “good.” This is probably the appropriate juncture at which to remind readers that Harris is a consummate actor, performer and character artist. For him, fooling people has been a lifetime’s work.
Harris, it was said, “has already been punished” through the ruin of his reputation, public shame, and the loss of various honours and awards across the world. Yet these are consequences of his actions, not punishment for them; and as unpleasant as these aspects of his recent life might have been for Harris, they are no substitute for a taste of hard, old-fashioned British justice — and even that seems to have eluded him, given the lenient nature of the sentence.
My favourite of the various pleas for mercy made on Harris’ behalf was an unbelievable assertion that for the past 20 years, Harris has led “an upright life,” which begs the obvious question: did he retire from active paedophilia at 65? Are people meant to think that 20 years with his hands in his pockets rather than up some poor kid’s skirt somehow makes it all better? I don’t think so.
Not when the victims of his crimes variously suffer from alcoholism, paranoia, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and an inability to trust people and/or form personal relationships. Yet those things don’t matter at all to Harris, who merely sought through counsel to “mitigate” his punishment.
It has been widely observed that he has shown no remorse, no regret, called his victims liars, and forced them to endure the additional anguish of testifying against him to belatedly bring him to justice.
I don’t think anything Harris has had to say for himself through his barrister ameliorates the heinous nature of the crimes he has committed, nor entitles him even to the gentle treatment he received from Mr Justice Sweeney in sentencing in the Southwark Crown Court in London yesterday.
I think the full whack of the 24 year maximum would have been more appropriate, despite the fact it would make Harris’ death in custody a certainty: if nothing else, it would have signalled the determination of the British justice system and the Court to come down hard on serial sex offenders, and especially those whose offences were perpetrated against little kids in shocking breaches and abuses of trust.
The offences of Harris certainly could have been worse, although that observation in no way lessens their gravity; as disgusted as millions around the world are in the revelations of his conduct that have surfaced, we can at least be thankful that even worse atrocities were not committed.
And those millions of outraged people are, in an oblique way, indirect victims too: the people who grew up idolising Harris, laughing at his jokes, singing along with his silly songs, and passing part of a fondly remembered childhood to their own children have all also suffered the indignity of having the trust they placed in Harris — even from afar — shattered.
But that, of course, pales into insignificance beside those who experienced his evil misdeeds first-hand.
When all is said and done, celebrity and status should provide no redemption, or cloak, or mitigation for what to any decent individual would be a clear and horrendous standard of sexual misconduct committed upon innocent children; in fact, such standing exacerbates the gravity of the offending as opposed to offering an avenue to bargain away the consequences.
And bargain or not, Harris has gotten away with his sins very lightly indeed.
In closing, one will say something favourable about Harris’ contemporary, good mate and fellow entertainer Jimmy Savile, who — it has been revealed — was also rotten to the core, albeit more so than Harris, with claims Savile engaged in sexual intercourse with corpses and other abhorrent, aberrant behaviour in addition to the kind of sexual abuse Harris will now be punished for.
At least Savile is dead. He can’t hurt anyone now.
And so too, frankly, should Harris be; if he wasn’t famous and reasonably rich he’d simply be just another filthy old pervert who’d been caught out over his crimes, and those crimes have been bad enough for the paltry three-year minimum sentence to be a final sick joke flung into the faces of his victims.
Harris, simply, isn’t worth the expenditure of monies by the British taxpayer to keep him alive at Wandsworth.
He isn’t the first of recent times and he certainly won’t be the last, but he is yet another advertisement for the reintroduction of capital punishment — not that there is any shortage of such advertising nowadays.
It is already known that Britain’s Attorney-General will review the Harris sentence, having already received complaints that it is lacking, manifestly inadequate, and an affront to Harris’ victims.
Those complaints are absolutely correct, and it is to be hoped the UK’s First Law Officer can aright what the Court got wrong.