Should Rolf Harris die in prison?

It is perhaps the worst part of the job. You’ve lost. The police are jubilant and the Crown Prosecution Service is making the finishing touches to its triumphant public statement.

What’s the best way to describe him?

“A prolific sexual offender?”

A bit feeble. How about:

“A prolific and evil sexual predator?”

Better, but still not quite right. Leaves a bit of wriggle room.

I know, I’ve got it now:

A prolific and evil sexual predator who has preyed on innocent children for decades.”

He may be taken down to the cells straightaway, or may be allowed his liberty for a few more days while reports are prepared.

What do you say when you reach the comparative calm of the interview room?

It’s not particularly easy.

The prolific and evil sexual predator is an old man with a bladder problem and a sense of humour, whom you have come to rather like and even – more often than people might imagine – to believe in over the two weeks of the trial. You have done your best but the jury have turned flat against both of you.

He is sitting slumped at a table with his head in his arms. He might be crying, although a stiff upper lip comes in handy at such times. Sometimes his wife is still there, hollow-eyed with grief and humiliation; more often she left him 12 months ago once she learnt what the accusations were.

Sympathy sounds empty at such a moment, but it is all you have left.

“I’m so sorry Mr X.”

There is seldom much point in talking about the length of the sentence he can expect. That was a conversation for an earlier, more optimistic, stage of proceedings, although if the verdicts are mixed or unexpected sometimes you can point out a few crumbs of comfort. “At least you got off the rape.”

If you are lucky he will turn his red eyes to you and thank you for trying hard.

If you are unlucky you will be inwardly cursing yourself for a bad decision you took during the trial, and if you are very unlucky he will be outwardly cursing you for the same thing.

You can perhaps try to soften the blow by talking about a possible appeal. The old boy might be comforted at the time, but in truth any defendant’s chance of getting a conviction overturned on appeal are vanishingly small. However good an appeal point you think you may have you can’t ever, honestly, be confident about it. “We’ll give it a go” is about as gung-ho as one can ever be.

Meanwhile prison looms. It is a particularly grim prospect for two categories of defendant: the very young and, as Rolf Harris is no doubt thinking this week, the very old.

Rolf Harris

Harris “could die in jail”, claimed the Daily Telegraph. Of course that goes for anyone who is sent to prison, but Harris is so near the end of his natural life that it is quite likely that his slow shuffle of shame up the steps of Southwark Crown Court on Friday morning will be his last as a free man. His sentence will be measured in years and he cannot have many years left. Oscar Wilde’s observation that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future” is not true in his case. He has no future.

The CPS cannot be criticised for bringing the prosecution. The central allegation, of an abusive relationship with a thirteen year old girl, was too serious to be overlooked. Nevertheless, it is hard to see what purpose can be served by imposing a long sentence on the wretched man.

Punishment is meant to serve three purposes: rehabilitation, deterrence and retribution.

Talk of “rehabilitation” is absurd. Were he an illiterate 18 year old from a broken home, in gaol for robbery it might, in theory, make some sense: he could – despite Mr Grayling’s book ban – learn to read, learn to be a painter and decorator and perhaps emerge from prison in a better position to lead a law abiding life. But Mr Harris has not offended for years. He apparently suffers from the sort of age-related conditions that tend to dampen libido, but even if he retained the urges of an adolescent kangaroo it is inconceivable that he will ever again be in a position to grope children and young women; still less to conduct a sexual relationship with a thirteen year old girl. Prison will not rehabilitate him and nor does it need to. There is no point in turning him into a second rate decorator. We can be certain that his days of sexual offending are over.

When he is sentenced the judge will probably speak of the need to deter others. Yet in truth a prison sentence will hardly be more of a deterrent than his public humiliation; and that will continue indefinitely. Even while his trial was in progress there was a huge amount of sometimes disgraceful comment that seemed calculated to influence the jury (although they would have been told repeatedly not to look at internet gossip). This tweet, for example, was a comparatively mild example of potentially prejudicial comment noteworthy only because its author claims – astonishingly – to be a practising magistrate. Perhaps she should find another way to occupy her leisure time.

Mags Tweet Rolf Harris
All restraint has now been thrown to the wind. Already in an attempt to increase his guilt by association Harris has been linked with Jimmy Savile, because on one occasion he was shown round Broadmoor Hospital in his company. The fact that Savile showed other celebrities around the hospital, such as Frank Bruno (to whom no suspicion whatever attaches) will be ignored, as will the conclusion to the official report into the matter:

all of these visitors were escorted, and we heard no suggestion of any inappropriate

behaviour or access to patients.”

But facts no longer matter. It is even possible that a prison cell will provide a shelter of sorts from the obloquy that is raining down, some of it inevitably from people whose own lives have hardly been models of probity.

What of the idea that Harris should be gaoled as an act of retribution? That can be the only remaining justification for locking him up: because he “deserves” it. It’s a grim justification for sending an old man to gaol, but to mark his disgrace by doing community service in a hospice like the septuagenarian Sylvio Berlusconi would seem faintly grotesque.

Silvio Berlusconi arrives for his first day's community service
Silvio Berlusconi arrives for his first day’s community service

Will those whom he abused so long ago feel better for Rolf Harris’s incarceration? If so then some good might perhaps come of what is otherwise a miserable story. But it is hardly something to be enthusiastic about.

Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

30 thoughts on “Should Rolf Harris die in prison?”

  1. Any wealthy British man is now vulnerable to these accusations and British men will be held in hatred, ridicule and contempt by men of other races and nations. Not only are they potential sex offenders, they are also afraid of their women.

    The feminazis have no idea what the damage they are doing to themselves even as they gloat that any retired alpha male can be punished by them on a whim.

      1. So British men will be ridiculed by men around the world because an Australian child abuser is convicted in the UK? Really? And it’s all the fault of the wicked nasty people who dare to say women are entitled to equal status with men. Goodness. Who knew?

  2. I know at least two women who have had sex when they were 13, by the way. These days 13 year old schoolgirls think nothing of having sex and it would probably be difficult to find one who is still a virgin. So why all this hypocritical fuss over stale evidence?

    [partly edited for legs reasons]

  3. The Home Office apparently gave £400,000 to the Paedophile Inofrmation Exchange in the 70s.

    Harriet Harman and the National Council for Civil Liberties accepted the PIE as one of its members.

    The staff at the BBC certainly knew about Saville and others, but did nothing and said nothing.

    The celebrity-addicted, celebrity-chasing tabloid press must have known about many paedophiles, but said nothing.

    The government knew about them and said nothing.

    The police knew about them.

    EVERYONE knew that pop stars regularly had young girls pawing at their feet in order to have sex with them.

    Numerous hospital staff and charity workers apparently knew about Saville, but said nothing.

    And, in the courtroom, it was stated over and over again that these celebs who were involved with youngsters did not seem to fear being discovered.

    Conclusion: It was CLEARLY seen as acceptable in those days for this type of behaviour to go on.

    But, gradually, over the following 40 years, attitudes have changed, and what was once seen as harmless intimicies between consenting beings, is now seen as highly damaging.

    All memories of those inappropriate events will have been reconstructed to conform with these new ideas.

    As such, these trials are corrupt.

    And Rolf Harris is no more of a pervert than was the entire country.

    This current charade is like prosecuting a driver for driving at 90 mph 40 years ago, when the speed limit was 100 mph, but claiming now that, in fact, he was driving over the speed limit and should be prosecuted.

    Sex with youngsters is wrong, for sure; but millions of people – DECENT people – did not believe this at the time.

    As such, these trials are truly sickening.

    They are also poisoning the social fabric of the entire country, casting suspicion everywhere, and encouraging the hateful tabloids and the hateful feminists and various children’s ‘charities’, yet again, to inject waves of male-hatred right across the nation; month after month after month.

    Which they all do for one reason only.


    And yet, all the while, if you look carefully, you can see that ALL THESE GROUPS are actually fuelling child sexual abuse on a huge scale and damaging hundreds of thousands of people in the process.


    1. I agree that there may be a problem with some of these trials. I completely disagree that they are all corrupt. Isee nothing wrong with the decision to prosecute Rolf Harris, as the post makes clear.

      1. There is everything wrong with using the UNCORROBORATED TESTIMONY of sexually promiscuous female alcoholics, I would have thought.

        This was obviously the worst case against him and, because the jury felt obliged to give her the benefit of the doubt, they also threw the book at him.

        The judge also said they were allowed to use the fact that they believed one of these claims to be true to add weight to the other ones too.

        ‘We would like some clarification,’ the note began, before going on to query if they could discuss the legal directions they’d been given ‘as there seems some confusion’.
        The note raised five points, including whether the jury was ‘to judge each count independently’.

        Harris is charged with 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.

        The Australian’s main accuser is a childhood friend of his daughter Bindi.

        She claims Harris abused her from the age of 13 but he insists the pair had a 10-year consensual affair that started after she turned 18.

        Jurors on Thursday asked: ‘Is it allowed to stereotype what the victim should have done prior to an alleged offence taking place in more than one count or using it against them?’

        Justice Sweeney responded by reminding the six men and six women of the lengthy legal directions he’d given them both in court and in writing.

        They could, if they decided to, consider evidence from other complainants or witnesses when deciding each indecent assault charge, he said.

        The judge also reiterated there was no classic or typical response to abuse.

        ‘A late complaint does not necessarily signal a false complaint any more than an immediate complaint demonstrates it’s true,’ he said.

        Justice Sweeney reminded jurors there was no stereotype for a sexual offence, a sex offender or a victim of sexual abuse.

        It is obvious that they were confused and the confusion did not end even after he gave them his directions, whatever they were, which were said to be lengthy, and confusing too, I bet.

        1. No I am not but calling militant feminists silly names is childish, loaded with inaccurate and generalised connotations and tends to invalidate anything else you have to say.

      2. Matthew, Rolf did not have a ‘sexual’ relationship with a 13yr old.

        Her allegations were of alleged inappropriate behaviour towards her during a family holiday when she was 13.

        She was over 18 when a series of 8 meetings, over 11 years, took place, by her own admission in Court. If I recall correctly, she instigated most of these. She remained very close to Bindi and Alwen throughout, in Rolf and Alwen’s home a huge amount, always happy to be there. Odd, as she stated she was terrified of him.

        Anyway, just came across your blog and felt the need to correct.

    1. Well I’m afraid that’s bilge Claire. I’ve also had to edit one of your earlier comments as I don’t want to risk libelling anyone

        1. Your question is a logical fallacy, Argumentum ad ignorantiam.

          You are the one who needs to prove the proposition as you are the one stating it.

          Several of the counts RH faced and was ultimately found guilty of were for digital penetration of a minor, I am not sure how any right minded individual can consider a 7 year old promiscuous.

  4. Your wrong about the cps. The case should never have been brought. Statute of limitations is urgently required. These cases shred the rule of law and are pure theatre.

    1. I would make it a rule that UNCORROBORATED testimony is never admissible, no matter how many complainants there are.

      This means if it is just one person’s word against another, forget it, unless the alleged offence was reported within 4 weeks of the commission of the alleged offence to the police.

      I think 4 weeks is time enough. If it was really serious you would report it immediately without passing go and without collecting £200. If you took 4 weeks to think about it and then decided not to, then you weren’t obviously that bothered about it.

      Extensions are only permitted if you were kidnapped, imprisoned and kept as a sex slave, obviously. Then time would start to run the moment you were in a position to report the sexual abuse you suffered.

      If the victim is a child then time runs from the time the parent/guardian/carer knew of the alleged abuse.

      I think that is nice and clear, don’t you?

  5. Rolf seems to be the classic “Jekyll and Hyde” case, two distinct sides to him; as opposed to a purely evil man lurking behind a mask. Jail time is appropriate, for an attempt at rehabilitation as much as anything else (some will say it little late for that at age 84, but the experience may benefit future cases). I think he should have some hope of eventual release.

    All in all, I think cases such as this need us to focus less on portraying the criminals as evil monsters, and more on the psychlogy and mental health side of the subject. Otherwise we will continue to prosecute old men (and women), but do little to “nip in the bud” the next generation of offenders. Perhaps in the future paedophiles will be considered people with an unfortunate (but treatable) illness. I hope so.

    I hope I’ve written that in a way that makes sense. Thanks for your interesting article.

    1. Or alternatively, selfish people with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement who wilfully abuse others, disregard the rights of others to autonomy over their own bodies and make children miserable, frightened and marginalised.

      Some of the comments on this blog are revolting.

      And Matthew, an abusive relationship is one entered into freely in which one party manipulates, bullies or beats up the other party. A middle aged man imposing his unwanted sexual attentions on a pubescent child too frightened to do anything other than submit is not a relationship, it’s child abuse, even if he has frightened that child to such an extent that they continue to submit past the age of consent.

  6. But how does that attitude help prevent future offences, Jenny? If we are constantly responding to the effect rather than the cause, then I don’t think anything will ever change much.

    If you disagree with that then explain why, rather than just tearing down other peoples ideas without offering any of your own.

  7. I dont doubt he had an underage relationship with the girl which messed her up in later life… I would guess the reality is the schoolgirl came onto him / was in awe of him and he was too foolish to realise the dangers and to vain to reject her. The relationship was abusive even if nothing physical had happened… because she was under age. She produced a contemporaneous witness to state she’d told her of Harris’s feeling her up at school so I guess it’s beyond reasonable doubt that the relationship did become physical before she was 16… He deserves to do some time.
    Some of the rest of the prosecution case is just laughable though? I mean how do you find an alibi for 46 years ago. The scarey thing is …if it wasn’t Rolf would we care? No we’d just say “idiot played with fire got burned”. Anyone who has a relationship with their daughter’s best friend while they’re still at school deserves to go to prison if for no other reason than downright stupidity.
    Hate all the people who burn his art though.
    Feel they’re the kind of people who would burn books…

  8. I always thought the jury had to be 100% sure without reasonable doubt before sentencing can occur – am I correct ?

  9. “100% sure” is never an expression that is used. These days the jury are told simply that they must be “sure”. However the phrase “beyond reasonable doubt” still crops up quite regularly.

  10. Two faced so’n’so! This is not what you told me when we met Mr Scott. You agreed with me that there was something very wrong with Rolf’s trial and even offered me any help if I needed it.

    1. If you want to contact me privately, Anne, please do. New facts emerge, sometimes doubts are resolved & sometimes doubts creep in. We are now in the middle of another trial so it’s not really the best time to comment in public.

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