How Rolf’s bullying lawyers cited Leveson inquiry to hide his arrest for four months and nearly jeopardised his conviction
- When the news blackout ended, a flood of other victims went to the police
- Prosecutors and child abuse charities say this publicity was vital in proving the case against Harris
- Police interviewed Harris in November 2012 but refused to confirm rumours
Rolf Harris’s conviction was jeopardised by his secret arrest and draconian threats to newspapers from lawyers citing the Leveson Inquiry.
The legal bullying meant the Press did not name the paedophile predator until four months after he was first quizzed by detectives.
When the news blackout ended, a flood of other victims went to the police to back up the first woman’s claims.
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The legal bullying meant the Press did not name the paedophile predator until four months after he was first quizzed by detectives
Prosecutors and child abuse charities say this publicity was vital in proving the case against Harris.
Open justice campaigners say the case shows that suppressing suspects’ names – even after arrest – can help protect criminals.
Detectives interviewed Harris in November 2012 but refused to confirm rumours that they had done so.
Police forces would usually confirm or deny a suspect had been arrested or interviewed under caution if asked by journalists.
Veteran entertainer Rolf Harris leaves Southwark Crown Court, with his wife Alwen and daughter Bindi (right), after being found guilty of 12 sex charges involving four women
But following the Leveson Inquiry, which included a raft of proposals to rein in the freedom of the Press, there have been growing concerns that police and other officials have been able to withhold key information from the public.
Newspapers continued to hold off from naming Harris even after he was quizzed by officers for a second time in March 2013.
In his report, Lord Justice Leveson wrote that except in exceptional circumstances the names of those who are arrested should not be released to the press or the public
His lawyers used the Leveson Report, which recommended anonymity in the event of arrests, to intimidate the press into silence.
But newspapers finally did publish his name the following month and more than a dozen victims came forward, nine of whom testified at his trial.
Prosecutor Sasha Wass QC told the trial this evidence was crucial in proving the case against Harris by demonstrating his ‘persistent pattern of sexual offending’.
The prosecutor’s comments fly in the face of claims by the law firm Harbottle and Lewis, which acted for Harris.
It told one newspaper after he had been interviewed under caution: ‘There is no public interest in publishing such content as is entirely self evident following the publication of the Leveson Report.’
The firm’s senior media lawyer, Gerrard Tyrrell, who has acted for Prince William, Prince Harry and the Middletons, also warned The Mail on Sunday it could face ‘highly damaging’ legal consequences if it published the fact that Harris had been quizzed by detectives.
Liz Mullinar, founder of child abuse charity Heal for Life, said: ‘Not naming suspects in cases like this is a disgrace. It means nobody else can come forward. It is protecting the perpetrators not the victims.’
Philip Davies, a Conservative MP on the Commons culture committee, said: ‘The Rolf Harris case is another prime example of why it is so important to have an open system of justice where people are informed about who’s been arrested or charged.
‘Maintaining any secrecy over arrests or charges only benefits criminals who could use it to get away with their crimes.’
In his report, Lord Justice Leveson wrote: ‘I think that it should be made clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances (for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public), the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press or the public.’
But the decision of Harris’s lawyers to cite this as proof there was no public interest in naming him after his arrest was condemned from all sides.
The Harbottle and Lewis letter was described in a Times editorial as ‘an ill-disguised threat deployed chiefly to protect a celebrity’s privacy’.