Rolf Harris witness 'was a Walter Mitty-type fantasist'

Entertainer Rolf Harris (C) is surrounded by the media as he leaves Southwark Crown Court in London June 30, 2014. Harris, a mainstay of family entertainment in Britain and Australia for more than 50 years, was found guilty on Monday of 12 charges of indecently assaulting young girls over a period of nearly 20 years.  REUTERS/Neil Hall (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT CRIME LAW)
Entertainer Rolf Harris (C) is surrounded by the media as he leaves Southwark Crown Court in London June 30, 2014. Harris, a mainstay of family entertainment in Britain and Australia for more than 50 years, was found guilty on Monday of 12 charges of indecently assaulting young girls over a period of nearly 20 years. REUTERS/Neil Hall (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT CRIME LAW)

Key evidence that could have exonerated Rolf Harris was not seen by the jury in his 2014 sexual abuse trial, his lawyers have told a London appeals court.

It includes evidence that a prosecution witness was a 'Walter Mitty-type' fantasist who lied about serving in the Korean War, and that one of his accusers had complained of sexual assault on almost 50 occasions without naming Harris as her abuser.

And the father of another of his accusers said he would never have let her go alone to see Harris perform, as she had claimed.

Harris, 87, is fighting to be pronounced innocent on all 12 convictions of indecent assault on four victims, who were aged between 8 and 19 at the time of the attacks.

His lawyers say that if the convictions relating to two of the victims were unsafe, then the other convictions should be reversed as well, as the jury had considered his entire history of sexual abuse when considering each charge.

If the appeal court of three senior judges of London's High Court accept his lawyer's arguments then Harris will leave the court an innocent man - though prosecutors may apply for a retrial.

At Harris' original trial, Justice Sweeney said the Australian entertainer's "reputation now lies in ruins, you have been stripped of your honours but you have no-one to blame but yourself".

Harris left prison in May after spending almost three years behind bars.

But after his conviction he employed a team of top-line investigators to exhaustively chase down new evidence in the hope it would clear his name.

At his first trial, Harris was found to have indecently assaulted an eight-year-old girl in 1969 at the Leigh Park Community Centre near Portsmouth, when she approached him for his autograph. In his sentencing remarks, Justice Sweeney had said he was "sure" of the truth of the woman's victim impact statement, in which she said the assault "took away my childhood".

But two retired police officers gave evidence - not heard at Harris' first trial - that they had worked 50 metres from the community centre and took morning tea there almost every day yet never heard anything about a visit by Rolf Harris.

Raymond Piper, a former detective-constable at the station, told the court he was "completely sure that I would have known had he been there", because of Harris' fame.

"It would have been quite a buzz," he said.

And Peter Spencer, another former detective-constable, said he was never aware of Harris being anywhere near the area.

Under cross examination, both Mr Piper and Mr Spencer conceded they could not absolutely rule out Harris having been at the centre.

The adoptive father of the victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said his daughter would never have been allowed to go to the community centre on her own, or just with her siblings, at that age. She had given evidence she was there with her older brother and sister.

"They were kept under close supervision," the man said. "It just wouldn't have been allowed."

However Jonathan Rees, QC, for the Crown, said the man was not a reliable witness because he had claimed to have told police of his misgivings before the first trial, but a police officer said the man had never raised them.

The court also heard evidence that a witness who had given definitive evidence at trial that Harris had been at the Leigh Park Community Centre had lied about serving in the Korean War - which the defence missed despite there being clues in his witness statement.

Lord Justice Treacy said the defence submission amounted to the fact that the only person placing Harris at the centre, other than his accuser, was a 'Walter Mitty character'.

Stephen Vullo, QC, for Harris, said this all amounted to fresh evidence that meant Harris' conviction was unsafe.

"It's credible, it's reliable, it goes to the central issue in the case and it wasn't raised at the trial," he said.

It was "blindingly obvious" that Harris was never at the Leigh Park Community Centre, he said.

But Mr Rees said much of the new evidence just duplicated other evidence the jury had seen.

Regarding another of Harris' accusers, Mr Vullo said there was fresh medical evidence that she had told counsellors almost 50 times of her abuse by a family member, but had never mentioned Harris' abuse to them until around the time he was named in the press as under suspicion of sexual abuse.

It was also suggested that she invented her account of his abuse by copying a Jimmy Savile documentary that screened at the time.

Mr Rees said the original jury had seen evidence from the woman's medical records, and this was just more of the same, and the similarity to the documentary was not remarkable.

He said a counsellor had given evidence that the woman had named Harris as her abuser before he was publicly named as a suspect.

The court is due to hear more legal argument on Wednesday before retiring to consider its decision on the appeal.

This story Rolf Harris witness 'was a Walter Mitty-type fantasist' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.