On 30th June 2014 Rolf Harris, everyone’s favourite children’s TV entertainer of old, was convicted of 12 counts of Indecent Assault. Sentence was adjourned until Friday, 4th July.
What sort of a sentence will he get?
- Count 1: Indecent assault between 1/1/68 and 1/1/70 on a girl A, aged 7-8
A was queuing for Mr Harris’s autograph. “When she reached the front of the queue, Harris had touched her inappropriately with his “big hairy hands”, she told the jury. She said she had initially thought it might have been an accident but then he touched her again.”
- Count 2: Indecent assault on a girl B, 14, between 1/1/75 and 1/1/76
Details:B was working as a waitress at a charity event when Mr Harris put his arm around her and down her back and over her bottom.
- Count 3: Indecent assault between 5/4/80 and 4/4/81 on girl C aged 15
- Count 4: Indecent assault between 5/4/80 and 4/4/81 on same girl, 15
- Count 5: Indecent assault between 5/4/80 and 4/4/81 on same girl, 15
- Count 6: Indecent assault between 5/4/80 and 4/4/81 on same girl, 15
- Count 7: Indecent assault between 1/1/84 and 1/1/85 on same girl, then aged 19
- Count 8: Indecent assault between 5/4/80 and 4/4/81 on same girl, 15
- Count 9: Indecent assault between 5/4/80 and 4/4/81 on same girl, 15
C was a childhood friend of Mr Harris’s daughter. The news reports indicate that C was aged between 13 and 15 at the time of the offences. Some of this (seemingly the earlier parts) was behaviour that was alleged to have occurred outside of England and Wales, and so cannot be tried in this country. We don’t know if the jury accepted that evidence or not, and so Mr Harris should not be sentenced on the basis that the abuse started when C was 13.
We are told that “The court heard that the abuse began when she had been on holiday with the Harris family at the age of 13. Later, the woman said Harris had performed a sex act on her at the Harris family home, with Bindi [Mr Harris’s daughter] asleep in the same room.
Further assaults took place at the Harris home and in her bedroom at her own home while her parents were downstairs, she said”
The exact details are not clear, but it seems that the most serious is the ‘sex act’ (although it is not clear what that sex act is.
- Count 10: Indecent assault on 31/5/86 on girl D, aged 14
- Count 11: Indecent assault on D on same day
- Count 12: Indecent assault on D on same day
The allegation, as reported by the BBC, is that Mr Harris “asked her to sit on his lap before moving his hand up her leg and assaulting her. He was moving back and forth rubbing against me,” she said. “It was very subtle, it wasn’t big movements.”
The jury heard that Harris had then patted her on the thigh and moved his hand upwards. She said she had “started to panic” and rushed to the toilet. When she came out, she said, Harris was waiting for her and gave her “a big bear hug” before putting his hand down her top and then down her skirt.”
Note – D has been widely named as it is reported that she has waived her anonymity. There is (probably) no power for her to do this, at least without having a waiver for this blog, as so we won’t name her as this would be a criminal offence. Clearly, all the other news outlets don’t agree with that!
The maximum sentences for Count 1 is 5 years, for Counts 2-9 it is 2 years on each count. The maximum for Counts 10-12 is 10 years each.
Approach to Sentencing
We have a factsheet on sentencing in historic sexual abuse cases. Also worth a read is this on sentencing for multiple offences.
The rule nowadays is that you start with the sentence that would be passed had the offences been committed today, before making allowances (sometimes) for the maximum sentence at the time.
For that reason, the first port of call is the Sentencing Guidelines for Sexual Offences 2014.
So. What’s he going to get?
We think that the ‘sex act’ was digital penetration. Today, this would be charged as assault by penetration (s3 Sexual Offences Act 2003).
The most serious offence is Assault by Penetration. This would be (page 14 Guidelines), probably a Category 2A Offence, giving a starting point of 8 years with a range of 5-13 years. Count 1, we would imagine, would be a Category 3A Offence, with a starting point of 1 year, with a range going up to 2 years.
The other offences differ in seriousness. Count 2 is probably 3B – giving a Community Order and Counts 10-12 are probably 3A, so 6 months or so.
The other offences on C are less clear, as the details are hazy. Of course, we have to remember that there is the assault by penetration.
On that basis, the sentence today for each complainant would be about :
A – 1 year
B – 9 years (8 years for the penetration, 1 year for the other offences)
C – Community Order
D – 6 months
It would not be right to roll all these sentences together. Stepping back, a sentence of about 9 years in total would appear to be about right. This would probably be achieved by shortening the sentence on B and making the other sentences consecutive (and giving a short custodial sentence for C).
But. But. The maximum sentence for the most serious offences is two years – how will the Judge square that circle?
On principle, there ought to be a reduction to take account of that. We would have thought that the appropriate sentence is about 2-3 years (before reduction for his age and good character). However, we got the sentence badly wrong in Max Clifford when we made the same approach, so who knows?
I would doubt the need to send him to prison, given his age and personal circumstances. We live in more draconian times however, and being a celebrity means his chance of getting a non-custodial is lesser. It would not surprise me if he were to get a sentence in the range of 4-5 years.
It is always difficult to predict a sentence, especially when you are relying on the newspaper to give the facts. That is before you even begin to consider that sentencing, as is often said (particularly by the Court of Appeal when dismissing an appeal against sentence) ‘is an art, not a science‘.
For that reason, this should be taken with a large pinch of salt. It’s not a definite guess, more a guideline to the parameters, and the approach that the Judge will likely take.