Rolf Harris 'used celebrity to molest children', British court hears

LONDON - Veteran Australian artist and entertainer Rolf Harris used his status as a television celebrity to launch a string of sexual assaults on children, a British court heard at the opening of his trial on Friday.

The 84-year-old, a fixture on British television screens for decades who once painted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, was "untouchable" because of his fame, prosecutors told Southwark Crown Court in London.

Harris, who moved to England in 1952, was known as "The Octopus" because he was so free with his hands, prosecutor Sasha Wass told the jury.

Harris is accused of 12 counts of indecent assault against four girls, the youngest of whom was aged seven or eight and the oldest 19, between 1968 and 1986. He denies the charges.

"Concealed behind this charming and amicable children's entertainer lay a man who exploited the very children who were drawn to him," Wass said.

"Mr Harris was too famous, too powerful and his reputation made him untouchable." The star's wife Alwen and other family members accompanied him to court.

Harris is well-known as a painter, entertainer and television presenter in both Britain and his homeland.

He painted an 80th birthday portrait of the queen in 2005, took part in her diamond jubilee celebrations in 2012, and has been honoured by both Britain and Australia.

As a singer, he topped the Australian charts in 1960 with "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" and the British charts in 1969 with "Two Little Boys".

But Wass said there was a "Jekyll and Hyde" aspect to Harris's character.

The prosecutor said it was "a side of him which is sexually attracted to children and under-age girls" and "a side which gave him the confidence to molest girls knowing that they could not object and, even if they did, nobody would believe them."