On 4 January 2016, we learned that Rolf Harris would be appealing against his sentence imposed for 12 counts of historical sexual offences.
History of proceedings
The history goes something like this:
In May 2014, Rolf Harris stood trial accused of numerous sexual offences (see here for details)
In June 2014, he was convicted of 12 counts (see here for details)
In July 2014, he was sentenced to 5 years 9 months (see here for details)
Later in July 2014, we learned that the Attorney General would not be referring the sentence under the unduly lenient sentence scheme (see here for details)
In August 2014, Rolf Harris applied for permission to appeal against his convictions (see here for details)
It seemed that he had also applied for permission to appeal against sentence, however this now appears not to have been the case.
In November 2014, we learned that the single judge had refused the application to appeal against conviction (see here for details)
In June 2015, details of a song written by Rolf Harris in which he described his victims as “money-grabbing mercenaries intent on claiming compensation“ was made public (see here for details)
The 12 charges were in relation to four different complainants occurring between 1968 and 1986. The complainants were aged between seven and 19.
Complainant 1 – C1
How many counts? Seven of the 12 counts related to this complainant
When were the offences alleged to have been committed? 1978 – 1985
How old was the complainant? 13 – 19 (although it was said that the complainant alleged she was abused by Harris up to age 29)
Who was she? A friend of Harris’ daughter.
The alleged activity The Mirror reported: Harris approached the girl in her room after she came out of the shower wrapped only in a towel, then indecently assaulted her “on the pretext of a hug and tickle”.
Details During a family holiday to Hawaii in 1978, C1 was assaulted by Harris. He went on to touch C1 several more times during the holiday, including after they moved on to Australia for the trip.
The Mirror reported: She said had just got out of the shower and was wrapped in only a towel when he came over and gave her a “cringey” hug.
She told the jury of six women and six men: “The way he hugged you and touched you all over, it was cringey.
“The way Rolf folded himself around you, he was a big man…he enfolded you in his arms and then touched you up and down over your body.
“He’d go ‘ooh’.”
He then sexually assaulted her before going back downstairs as if “nothing had happened”, the woman told the court.
C1 also said Harris twice led her away from a jetty where she had been sunbathing to abuse her down the side of the house.
However in cross examination Harris’ barrister questioned C1 about her diary, particularly asking why there was no mention in her diary of the alleged abuse. The diary entry for that day commented “Today was great, we went on the beach and went swimming.”
Further assaults were said to have taken place in her own home during her teens and on one occasion when other people – including Harris’ wife – were present in the room. C1 developed a drinking problem at age 14 and would drink “shed loads of gin” when Harris visited her family home. C1 also alleged that Harris abused her when she was in bed next to Harris’ daughter Bindi.
When C1 was 14, Harris followed her to her room, and said she “turned him on” before assaulting her.
After C1 turned 19 there were occasions when she consented to sexual encounters with Harris, which continued until she was 29.
On one occasion she performed a sex act on Harris on the M4 motorway in Harris’ red Mercedes when she was 22 in 1987.
C1 went to see Harris in Cinderella in Wimbledon in 1994.
She performed a sex act on him in his dressing room before the panto started.
She brought the abuse to an end when she was 29.
C1’s father wrote a letter to Harris after C1 told him of the abuse. Harris replied in 1997 admitting a sexual relationship, denying that it began when she was aged 13 and he had been left feeling “sickened” to learn of the misery he had caused her.
Harris said he believed that “everything that had taken place had progressed from a feeling of love and friendship”, and there was “no rape, no physical forcing”.
Complainant 2 – C2
How many counts? 1
When were they committed? 1968
How old was the complainant? 7 or 8
Details When aged 8, C2 saw Harris at a community centre. in Portsmouth She went to get his autograph. He touched her indecently in an ‘intrusive’ way.
The Mirror reported: C2 told jurors: “He was very very close, he was leaning into me.
“I thought he was warm, being accommodating to a small child.
“He was looking at me smiling and I smiled and was looking excited, then from out of nowhere I felt his hand go down my back and up between my legs.
“It was very quick, so quick that I thought to myself ‘what’s just happened’.”
The girl “could not process” what had happened and thought it may have been an accident but Harris then repeated the same move.
She said: “More or less instantly the hand was back. I don’t recall it on my back that time, but it was straight up between my legs quite aggressively and forcefully and it didn’t matter if it was going to hurt me or not.”
Complainant 3 – C3
How many counts? 1
When were they committed? 1975
How old was the complainant? 14
Details At an ‘It’s a Knockout’ event in Cambridge, C3 saw Harris playing with a dog. He said “oh look who’s here’ before fondling her.
The Mirror reported: C3 told the jury of six men and six women that Harris put his arm around her, and moved his hand up and down her back, before squeezing her bottom.
With her voice wavering, she said: “I can’t remember the exact words but he made some motion to me ‘ come up’, and I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as if it was happening now. He came up and put his arm around my left shoulder.
“It was quite a firm hold. I just stood there. I couldn’t believe what was going on, this famous person putting his arm around me.
“To start it was a very nervous but a good feeling, however his hand then moved and his hand went up and down my back and his hand went over my bottom and it was very firm.”
Complainant 4 – C4
Anonymity – C4 had reportedly ‘waived’ her right to anonymity. Whilst there is provision for that under the relevant legislation, we will err on the side of caution and refer to her as C4.
How many counts? 3
When were they committed? ‘late 1980s’
How old was the complainant? 15
Details C4 met Harris whilst she was part of a theatre group in Australia. The group travelled to the UK in 1986 where they met Rolf and had dinner at a London pub where he told funny stories. He asked the girls to sit on his lap whilst he touched them inappropriately. C4 was in shock and went to the bathroom. When she left the bathroom Harris was waiting for her and groped her again. Harris stopped when someone walked by.
The Mirror reported: C4 then aged 15, said she was invited to sit on the entertainer’s lap, and that his hand began to creep up her thigh.
She said: “I could feel that there was some movement happening beneath me. He was moving back and forth rubbing against me.”
The defence commented that C4’s decision to give press interviews about the alleged abuse demonstrated a desire to make money out of Harris.
Appeal against sentence
It now appears that Rolf Harris will apply (or already has applied) for permission to appeal against sentence.
We have an overview of the procedure here, but in essence, the applicant must apply for permission. The case is reviewed by a judge (“the single judge”) and permission is either granted or refused. Where permission is refused, the applicant has the right to renew the application before the full court (this is a full appeal hearing). Where permission is granted, there will be a full hearing before the full court.
The test for whether an appeal should be allowed (and therefore whether permission should be granted) is whether the sentence is ‘manifestly excessive’. This is more than ‘a bit too high’ but sufficiently high so as to indicate that something went wrong in the Judge’s approach.
There is no provision for the Court of Appeal to increase a sentence as a penalty for an appeal or anything of that nature.
The time limit for applying for permission to appeal is 28 days from the date of sentence.
What will happen?
As the 28-day time limit has expired, permission to appeal will be more difficult to obtain. Where an out of time application can demonstrate a satisfactory reason for it being made after the expiration of the time limit, permission will be granted. The test applied is the ‘interests of justice’ test and this will include the court considering the length of the sentence and the merits of the appeal; where it appears the applicant has suffered a miscarriage of justice (particularly where the sentences are very lengthly) permission will be granted.
In this case, we do not (yet) know of the reasons why the application is being made out of time. It is likely that those advising Rolf Harris are different to those who advised him after he was sentenced (and presumably advised that there were no grounds to appeal sentence).
The Mail’s headlines stated that Rolf had spent “thousands” on his new team of appeal lawyers. We’re prepared to give him a bit of free advice: based on what we know of the offending and the length of sentence, we wouldn’t fancy his chances of success…