SYDNEY: Rolf Harris’ hometown moved to purge all memory of the former cultural icon Tuesday as Australia distanced itself from the disgraced entertainer after he was convicted of indecently assaulting girls.
Australian-born Harris, 84, was found guilty of all 12 charges against him after a six-week trial in London and now faces jail, capping a spectacular fall from grace.
The TV presenter, artist and musician assaulted four girls and young women aged from seven to 19 between 1968 and 1986, including his daughter Bindi’s childhood best friend, the court found.
Harris was one of Australia’s best-loved personalities, who headed to London when he was 22 and made his name in Britain.
He shot to fame with his signature instrument, a wobble board, and songs about kangaroos and a man called Jake who had an extra leg, ultimately painting Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait on her 80th birthday.
In his hometown he was a hero known as “The Boy from Bassendean”, after the Perth suburb where he grew up.
But now Bassendean Mayor John Gangell wants nothing more to do with Harris, whose life and legacy are in ruin.
“These are heinous crimes. All privileges should be stripped from Harris,” he told ABC radio, adding that a meeting tomorrow would consider whether to remove his status as a freeman.
“It is a shock but it’s something we must do now to distance ourselves from the crimes in which he’s been convicted. Unfortunately that world stage that he’s put Bassendean on has now come crashing down.”
The town has already removed a framed portrait of him from the council chambers and was also considering whether to take down a plaque outside the family home.
A West Australian Education Department spokesman told reporters that several Harris artworks would also be removed from the Perth Modern School, where he studied from 1943 to 1947.
City of Perth Mayor Lisa Scaffidi added to Fairfax radio that the council would likely tear up a footpath plaque in his honour.
“It’s a very sad issue and something we need to deal with,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who grew up during Harris’ heyday, said he was “gutted and dismayed” at the verdict.
“But it’s very important that we do everything we humanly can to protect vulnerable young people,” he said of a man once adored by children and adults alike.
“Sexual abuse is an utterly abhorrent crime ... and it’s just sad and tragic that this person, who was widely admired, seems to have been a perpetrator.”
Twitter uses were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the entertainer.
“Shocking to hear 12 guilty verdicts for #RolfHarris – disgusting abuse of trust & celebrity status,” said one.
Another tweeted: “The success of the Rolf Harris prosecution, on so many counts, brings some hope to those afraid to speak up about abuse.”
The Australian media said it was clear he had a dark side.
“Guilty: Harris abused teens for years”, screamed the Sydney Daily Telegraph, while Fairfax Media dredged up a 20-minute anti-child abuse video Harris shot in the 1980s called “Kids Can Say No”.
“In the period when the video began to be widely shown in schools, youth clubs and health institutes in Britain, the court found he was also having sexual encounters with his daughter’s best friend,” Fairfax said.
The Australian broadsheet said his fall from grace “will be complete when authorities move to strip him of all his royal and Australian honours”.
Harris was made a CBE in 2006 –one of the highest honours the queen can bestow – and appointed to the Order of Australia in 2012.
Labelled a “sinister pervert” by the prosecution, he is the second person convicted under Operation Yewtree.
The high-profile investigation was set up in 2012 after allegations that the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile was a prolific sex offender. — AFP