By A. Neaverson
If you were to read the headline without the celebrity name attached, you would be absolutely appalled by the seemingly lenient sentence. However, in today’s society we have become more accepting of responses such as ‘Yeah, that’s what I expected because he is so famous’. Since when did we fall back into the pre-classical approaches to criminal justice and have one set of laws for the rich and another for the poor?
Rolf Harris has been sentenced to 5 years and 9 months in prison, meaning he is likely to spend less than 3 years physically behind bars. Furthermore, he will not be ordered to pay compensation to his victims. According to the BBC, Rolf showed no emotion while his sentence was being read out; maybe he didn’t know if he should cry or smile.
As described within the Sentencing Remarks of Mr Justice Sweeney found here, Rolf Harris was sentenced for 12 counts of indecent assault on 4 victims who were aged between 8 and 19 at the time. He received the following sentences for each count:
Count 1: 9 months’ imprisonment.
Count 2: 6 months’ imprisonment consecutive.
Count 3: 15 months’ imprisonment consecutive
Count 4: 15 months’ imprisonment concurrent
Count 5: 15 months’ imprisonment concurrent
Count 6: 12 months imprisonment concurrent
Count 7: 15 months’ imprisonment consecutive
Count 8: 12 months’ imprisonment concurrent
Count 9: 12 months’ imprisonment consecutive
Count 10: 9 months’ imprisonment concurrent
Count 11: 9 months imprisonment concurrent.
Count 12: 12 months’ imprisonment consecutive.
Some people are asking “But what did he do?”, “Didn’t he just grope a few girls? Back in the day that wasn’t uncommon”. Well let me help you to get a better picture of what Rolf Harris did to innocent children.
You indecently assaulted ‘A’ in 1969 (when she was aged 8 and you were aged 39). You did so when you made an appearance at the Leigh Park Community Centre in Havant, and she approached you for your autograph. Others were present. Taking advantage of your celebrity status, you twice put your hand up her skirt between her legs and touched her vagina over her clothing.
Victim 'C' - Age 13, took her on holiday and indecently assaulted her; and again when she was 15. You left your wife and ‘C’’s parents downstairs and you went up to ‘C’’s bedroom on the top floor of the house....."
Ill stop there, but if you want to know "what did he do" the judge summarises it here.
So why did he only get less than 6 years... or 6 months per offence? Because of his Mitigating Factors (which are factors that work in favour of the defendant and can result in a lesser sentence). According to the sentencing remarks, the judge considered the following mitigating factors as part of his sentencing decision:
“On your behalf I am asked to take into account a number of matters in mitigation, including the following:
(1) With the exception of ‘C’ the offences were brief and opportunistic.
(2) The fact that you have no previous convictions and have led an upright life since 1994 ‐albeit it is accepted that that must be tempered by the reality, underlined in the Attorney General’s Reference (above), that you got away with your offending for years.
(3) The fact that you have a good side, that there are many people who know you who speak well of you, and that over many years you have dedicated yourself to a number of charitable causes.
(4) The fact that you are not in the best of health, as attested to in the report of Dr Fertleman, and that therefore, although capable of serving a prison sentence, it will be particularly tough on you.
(5) The fact that your wife, who you help in looking after, has various health problems, as attested to in the report of Dr Mitchell‐Fox.
(6) That you should be enabled to spend your twilight years with your family.”
I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough for me. The mitigating factor that I think we especially need to reconsider is the last one, “That you should be enabled to spend your twilight years with your family”. What about the young women’s right to spend their childhood without having it ruined by a sexual predator. Forget about their childhood; the events that took place have ruined their adolescents and impacted their adult years as well, not to mention the outcome that this trial will now have on them. They have been suffering for over 30 years, yet the judge says that Rolf Harris should be enabled to spend his last few years within the safe comfort of his family. It appears that the Mitigating factors are being put before the negative outcomes that his victims have been dealing with for their entire lives.
Rolf Harris was sentenced based on ‘sentencing historic sexual offences set out in Annex B of the current Sentencing Council Definitive Guideline” which means that the “maximum sentence on Count 1 is one of 5 years imprisonment, on each counts 2-9 it is one of 2 years imprisonment, and on each of counts 10-12 it is one of 10 years”. Today, these offences attract significantly higher maximum sentences, but regardless, as stated “on each of Counts 10-12 it is one of 10 years” for a maximum sentence meaning he could have received more time in prison.
Perhaps this is why, according to the BBC “the sentence of five years and nine months has already been referred to the Attorney General's Office under the ‘unduly lenient sentence scheme’". To read more about the unduly lenient sentence, click here
It would be interesting to look at a comparison of this ‘celebrity status’ with a normal ‘citizen status’ case to see if the types of sentences are similar, or if they have been impacted by his celebrity status.