Rolf Harris 'a Jekyll and Hyde'

Banbury Cake: Rolf Harris denies the 12 charges dating back to the late 1960s Rolf Harris denies the 12 charges dating back to the late 1960s

Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character whose fame allowed him to carry out a string of alleged indecent assaults on under-age girls, a court has heard.

The 84-year-old was even known at an Australian TV channel as "the octopus" because of the way he put his hands all over women, London's Southwark Crown Court was told today.

Opening the case against the star, who denies 12 counts of indecent assault between 1968 and 1986, prosecutor Sasha Wass QC said Harris's alleged victims were "overawed" by him, saying: "Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable."

Addressing a packed courtroom, Ms Wass said Harris was "an immensely talented man" but his fame and reputation meant he was able to carry out "brazen" sexual assaults, often when other people were present or nearby.

Ms Wass said: "The prosecution does not, for a minute, suggest that there is not a good, talented and kind side to Mr Harris.

"But, concealed behind this charming and amicable children's entertainer, lay a man who exploited the very children who were drawn to him.

"There is a Jekyll and Hyde nature to Rolf Harris and this dark side of Rolf Harris was obviously not apparent to all of the other people he met during the course of his work, and it was not apparent to those who may want to testify to his good character."

The prosecutor said it was "a side of him which is sexually attracted to children and under-age girls" and "a side which gave him the confidence to molest girls knowing that they could not object and, even if they did, nobody would believe them".

She said: "You will hear from a make-up artist from Channel 7 in Australia that Rolf Harris's reputation was such that he was known as the octopus because of the way that he would put his hands all over women."

Harris, sitting in the dock wearing a grey suit, white shirt and multi-coloured tie, listened intently to the proceedings through a hearing loop as the prosecution case was outlined.

His wife Alwen and other members of his family sat in the public gallery alongside dozens of UK and international journalists.

Ms Wass told the court that a number of alleged victims will give evidence, four of whom are the subject of charges on the indictment, and others who are supporting witnesses.

"The chances of so many people making up similar false allegations are just ludicrous," she told the jurors.

Allegations made by a string of women were outlined to the jury, including one woman - with whom Harris admits he had an affair when she was an adult - who claims she was abused from the age of 13 for 15 years.

The woman, who it is claimed was groomed like "a young puppy who had been trained to obey" is subject of seven of the counts Harris is facing, and alleged she was first abused while on holiday in Hawaii in 1978.

Ms Wass said: "You will hear during the course of this case other instances where Mr Harris touched children and women alike in quite brazen circumstances.

"It may be that that was part of the excitement, knowing that he could do that and get away with it."

She said the girl's parents trusted Harris, adding: "Rolf Harris was a pillar of society, a well-respected man and somebody who was well-known for being fond of children".

Eventually the woman - who became an alcoholic - told her parents, prompting her father to write a letter to Harris.

In a reply, sent in March 1997, the artist confessed to having a sexual relationship with the woman, but denied it started when she was 13.

In the letter, he described being in a state of "self loathing" and feeling "sickened" by himself for the misery he had caused her.

"You can't go back and change things that you have done in this life - I wish to god I could," he wrote.

"I know that what I did was wrong but we are, all of us, fallible and oh how I deluded myself. Please forgive me, love Rolf."

In a police interview in August 2013 Harris claimed in a prepared statement that the woman had asked him for £25,000 to set up an animal sanctuary, or her brother would go to the press.

In the statement he said: "I refused to make any payment to her. Although nothing appeared in the press at the time, I feared that it was only a matter of time until she would make our affair public."

One charge relates to a woman who claims Harris groped her when she was seven or eight years old as she went to get his autograph at a community centre in Portsmouth in 1969, twice putting his hands between her legs in an "intrusive way".

The court also heard details of other women who claim they were groped by Harris, but their complaints are not part of the charges on the indictment because they happened abroad before the law changed in 1997 to allow such claims to be prosecuted in the UK.

The first woman was aged 11 or 12 in 1969 when she claims Harris told her: "Come here, I want to be the first one to give you a tongue kiss."

He then ran his hand up and down her back and "stuck his tongue in her mouth", it is claimed. Ms Wass said: "She froze. She described the experience as vile and it made her gag."

A second woman claims she was groped after Harris asked her to dance at an event in New Zealand in 1970.

The jury heard that Harris "knew that whatever he did, he would be able to get away with it".

Ms Wass said: "He was targeting people who were in awe of him and he pushed the boundaries, even in a public place, a dance floor. He knew he could get away with it."

A third woman was on holiday in Malta with her boyfriend when she was 18 when she claimed Harris pushed her against a door and started to kiss her, "slobbering around her face and neck" and groping her.

Another alleged victim, to whom one charge of indecent assault relates, claimed that she was working as a waitress at an event in Cambridge when she was 14 in the 1970s, when Harris groped her.

Ms Wass asked the jury: "Would these girls, unknown to each other, make it up? Or is the reality they are telling the truth and they are all describing the dark side of Mr Harris, the Mr Hyde character that lurks within?"

The alleged victim in the final three counts on the indictment was part of an Australian theatre company which visited the UK in 1986. She claims that the group met Harris at a dinner, when he assaulted her.

The court heard that "the great Rolf Harris" had taken advantage of her. The jury was told that her boyfriend persuaded her to go to the media, and she employed a PR agent and received 60,000 dollars to appear on an Australian television programme called A Current Affair and give an interview to a magazine called Woman's Day.

In another alleged incident, the court heard that a woman and her 15-year-old daughter met Harris at a paint shop in New Zealand, and he groped both of them in turn. He allegedly told the mother: "She liked it", suggesting he was talking about her daughter.

Concluding her prosecution opening, Ms Wass said: "What you have before you is a persistent pattern of sexual offending by Rolf Harris over a 25-year period."

She added: "Just because a case is historic it doesn't mean you should dismiss it."

The trial, at Southwark Crown Court, was adjourned to Monday morning when the first witness is expected to give evidence.

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