Rolf Harris named in sex abuse investigation

For several months rumours have been circulating about the identity of an ‘82-year old Australian entertainer, who lives in Berkshire, UK’, who has been questioned by police over sexual offences dating back decades. On Friday, Britain’s The Sun newspaper put an end to speculation by naming television favourite Rolf Harris as the man being questioned as part of Operation Yewtree.

Operation Yewtree was instigated after an ITV documentary aired claims that Sir Jimmy Savile, a popular television and radio presenter in the UK, had sexually abused countless youngsters over a period of 54 years. Savile, who died in 2011, never faced the claims personally, but several other well-known personalities were identified as being responsible for sexual offences. Of the 11 men questioned since October 2012, Rolf Harris, plus one other, are the only personalities believed to have been unnamed, until now.

First questioned under caution in November 2012, for offences not directly related to Jimmy Savile, the popular Aussie was again arrested and questioned last month. Although he vehemently denies all claims, the exact nature of which have not been released, it has been reported that Mr Harris left his family home in Berkshire and moved into a London flat to spare his family public scrutiny.

Police have not named or confirmed that Rolf Harris has been questioned and will not do so unless he is charged. He has been released on bail until May while further inquires take place.

Although an Aussie by birth and growing up in Wembley Park, a suburb of Perth, Harris has spent most of his life in the UK. Achieving television stardom in the 50s, Harris went on to marry his wife, Welsh-born artist Alwen Hughes and settled in Britain. Perhaps the highlight of his career was being chosen to paint a portrait of the Queen on her 80th birthday.

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Opinion: Trial by media

Since Scotland Yard’s Operation Yewtree began investigating claims of sexual offences in October last year, 11 men have been questioned, yet only two escaped being publicly named, until now. Each nugget of information released about the latest personality to be taken in by police led to a flurry of activity on social media as the guessing games began, only for British newspapers to end the speculation by eventually publishing the name. Yet, for some reason, when it came to Rolf Harris, there was a certain reticence to put his name in ink.

Perhaps it was the ‘threatening’ emails sent to the various media outlets from Mr Harris’ lawyers, the same firm which represents the Royal Family, which had the press running scared. Such emails apparently made it clear that, following the Levinson Inquiry into the conduct of the press, ‘the legal consequences of [naming their client] would not be lost on you’. Or perhaps it was because of the audacity of such emails that the editor of The Sun chose to do what no other newspaper had dared to do and indeed, name Mr Harris.

With so many people knowing the identity of the ’82-year old Australian entertainer’, and social media awash with his name, it was only a matter of time before Rolf Harris’ world came crashing down around him.

As no charges have been laid, it is not possible for anyone to judge whether Rolf Harris is guilty of the claims levied against him, but this won’t stop people from pronouncing him guilty. Even though I have never met Rolf Harris, I have been told stories of his alleged improper behaviour during appearances at university events in the UK. It seems it’s all too easy for rumours to spread, even to the opposite side of the world, with no regard for the truth.

I, like most of the newspaper-reading population, have no idea whether Rolf Harris is guilty or not and I believe that he should be afforded a fair trial. If, and only if, he is found guilty, he should accept the consequences he would then so rightly deserve. But it seems that social media and traditional media outlets believe they have the right to be judge and jury.

Sex sells and the more salacious the better. There appears to be more people ready to believe the worst, rather than consider that there is no case to answer. Regardless of whether Rolf Harris is found to be guilty of any wrongdoing, the spectre of the allegations will hang over him and his family forever.

Were the British media right to name Rolf Harris? Does everyone, even celebrities, have the right to privacy?

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