Australian PM 'gutted and dismayed' at Harris verdict
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was "gutted and dismayed" Tuesday after entertainer Rolf Harris was convicted on 12 counts of indecently assaulting girls, as his home town moved to purge his memory.
Australian-born Harris, 84, was found guilty of all the charges against him after a six-week trial in London, 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.
He will be sentenced on Friday and almost certainly faces jail.
"I feel gutted and dismayed but it's very important that we do everything we humanly can to protect vulnerable young people," Abbott told ABC radio of a man adored by children and adults alike.
"It's a terrible, terrible business.
"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."
Harris was one of Australia's best-loved entertainers, 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.
He was made a CBE in 2006 -- one of the highest honours the queen can bestow -- and performed at a concert marking the monarch's diamond jubilee outside Buckingham Palace in 2012.
- 'Heinous crimes' -
The Australian media, which has reported blow-by-blow accounts of the trial, 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 the United Kingdom, the court found he was also having sexual encounters with his daughter's best friend," Fairfax said.
The Australian broadsheet said he left Southwark Crown Court "shattered as he walked some of his last steps as a free man".
"Harris's fall from grace will be complete when authorities move to strip him of all his royal and Australian honours following his conviction," it added in its online edition.
Harris' home town of Bassendean in Western Australia, where he was considered a hero, said it would consider at a special meeting on Thursday whether to remove his status as a freeman.
"These are heinous crimes. All privileges should be stripped from Mr Harris," Bassendean Mayor John Gangell told ABC radio.
"Unfortunately that world stage that he's put Bassendean on has now come crashing down."
A West Australian Education Department spokeswoman told reporters that several Harris artworks would 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 also tear up a footpath plaque in his honour.
"It's a very sad issue and something we need to deal with," she said.
Labelled a "sinister pervert" by the prosecution, Harris is the second person to be 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.
© 2014 AFP