Rolf Harris, life-sentences, and horrified victims

How painful must it have been for victims of Harris to learn that the man who stole their childhood, leaving them isolated and vulnerable, will probably serve less than 3 years in prison? What is wrong with our criminal justice system?

A Portrait of Dorian Harris?
Steven George-Hilley
On 9 July 2014 11:27

The arrogant smile and elaborate boat ride up the Thames for sentencing revealed much about the chilling true character of Rolf Harris. Despite being found guilty of 12 counts of horrific child abuse that had destroyed the lives of his victims, the grinning sex offender showed no remorse for his crimes, treating the journey to court more like a TV opportunity than a public shaming.

The ability to detach himself from reality and the gravity of his crimes is a hallmark of a predatory paedophile, not the kind-hearted (false) personality which was projected to the millions of his fans for decades.

Like many other kids growing up in the 80s and 90s, Rolf’s Cartoon Club and even Animal Hospital were essential and loved family entertainment in my house.

So well-crafted was his likeable media image that he secured numerous honours, including being allowed to paint the Queen. When I first heard rumours that he was the unnamed 82 year old arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, my reaction was much the same as many other people that had fallen for his deception -- utter disbelief.

How could we possibly reconcile the revolting allegations with the perception of someone so intertwined with national life and so loved by the British people?

The answer of course was that the Rolf Harris we all saw on TV never existed, the projection that captured the nation’s heart was in reality nothing remotely like the cold, calculated and cruel man who surfaced once the cameras had stopped rolling.

His lack of emotion and inability to comprehend the impact his crimes had on his victims during the trial was a character trait which he maintained for his entire life. Like Clifford and Savile, he ruthlessly exploited his media image and powerful personality to target the most vulnerable, doing so with the assumption of being above scrutiny and above the law.

It was this arrogance and denial of the charges that forced a series of vulnerable women into court. Scarred for life and already in a state of anxiety, one-by-one they were torn into by Harris’s defence team, their honesty and integrity was questioned and their stories tested.

Anyone under any illusion that the women making these kinds of allegations and enduring this level of intensive scrutiny would be doing it just for money should think again.  From the stress of ensuring they stay anonymous, to hearing their attacker’s denials would be enough to reduce many to a nervous wreck, so they deserve our support and not scepticism.

But how painful must it have been to learn that the man who stole their childhood, leaving them isolated and vulnerable was sentenced to just five years in prison, knowing that for good behaviour he will be free in less than three.

Is this really a fitting punishment for a man who deceived an entire nation whilst exploiting the most vulnerable? This was a man with the gall to sing Jake The Peg and imitate a didgeridoo in court to a stunned jury. A man who assaulted Vanessa Feltz live on air and attacked a 15 year old, Linda Nolan, without a second thought. A man who showed not one shred of remorse for his crimes or the suffering he had caused his victims.

Despite notable coverage of the heart breaking victim impact statements in court, the media has still not adequately communicated the long-term and traumatic suffering that will stay with victims for life.

Insomnia, alcoholism, addiction and suicidal tendencies are just a few of the horrors that are clinically proven to haunt victims of these kinds of crime. That means a life sentence of suffering for every single one of Harris’s victims, in contrast to his leisurely jail term of just three years.

For men like Harris, I’m tempted to suggest the death penalty, but unfortunately it was abolished. With this in mind, a life sentence is the only fitting punishment to guarantee that the perpetrators of these crimes die in jail.

Until we stop dishing out soft sentences to dangerous sex offenders, Britain will continue to remain a country where true justice is never achieved and the vulnerable are not adequately protected. Life sentences for paedophiles will be the only way to ensure that the arrogant smile is wiped of the faces of evil men like Harris, once and for all.

Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and a Conservative Party activist. He is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator

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