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TV star Rolf Harris faces jail for sex assaults

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Television star Rolf Harris, a household name in Britain and Australia for half a century, returned to court Friday to be sentenced for a string of indecent assaults against girls and young women.

The Australian-born television presenter, artist and songwriter was on Monday found guilty of assaulting four victims between 1968 and 1986, including a girl of seven or eight who had gone to get his autograph.

The 84-year-old has been on bail since his conviction and left his home on the River Thames in Berkshire, west of London, by boat as he headed to the capital for sentencing, where he arrived with a striped suitcase.

The judge asked for a medical report before considering his sentence, looking at the possibility Harris could die in jail. But he warned the ageing entertainer that he was likely to face time behind bars.

Prosecutors said on Friday they would not pursue allegations that Harris downloaded sexual images of children, saying it was "no longer in the public interest".

During court arguments that can only now be reported, his lawyers had contested the age of models found in pornographic images found on his computer.

Harris's conviction caused widespread shock and soul-searching in Britain, where his television programmes were watched by millions of children and where he played sold-out music gigs at top venues such as Glastonbury.

He was the second person to be convicted under a wide-ranging police investigation set up after allegations that a fellow BBC television star, Jimmy Savile, was a prolific abuser.

- 'Grubby and disgusting' -

Before the final sentencing, London's Southwark Crown Court heard statements on Friday from Harris's victims, including one by his daughter Bindi's childhood friend.

The abuse against her began when she was 13 and on holiday with the Harris family, and continued for a period of 16 years, prosecutors said.

"The attacks that happened have made me feel dirty, grubby and disgusting. The whole sordid saga has traumatised me," the woman said in a statement read out by a lawyer.

Harris admitted having a sexual relationship with the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but said it only began when she was an adult.

In mitigation, his lawyer Sonia Woodley said that, with the exception of his daughter's friend, all the assaults involved brief encounters and were "opportunistic rather than predatory".

"There are two sides to him and it's a fact that he has a good side to him," she said.

Harris's stature was once so great that he was made a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2006 -- one of the highest honours Queen Elizabeth II can bestow -- and even painted the monarch's portrait on her 80th birthday.

There was also revulsion at his spectacular fall from grace in Australia, the home country that he left at the age of 22 but which treated him as a national hero.

After the guilty verdict on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was "gutted and dismayed".

- 'Dark side' -

During the trial, Harris made the most of the charm that once enraptured viewers, singing his hit "Jake the Peg" and describing how he invented the "wobble board", an instrument he used in his song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport".

But proceedings darkened when witnesses now in their 40s and 50s took the stand to describe how Harris assaulted them when they were children or teenagers.

Harris told the court he was good at disguising his "dark side" while prosecutors said he was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character.

Reports suggest the entertainer, known for hit songs such as "Two Little Boys", could now be stripped of his CBE, while there is also the prospect of further charges.

Since Harris's conviction, a dozen more women from Britain, Australia and New Zealand have made fresh allegations against him.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140704/tv-star-rolf-harris-faces-jail-sex-assaults-0