Rolf Harris to appear at trial via video link, judge rules

Rolf HarrisImage copyright

Former TV entertainer Rolf Harris will not have to attend his sex attack trial in person because of his age and health, a judge has ruled.

In what the court heard could be a legal first, the 86-year-old will be allowed to follow the trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court via video link from Stafford Prison.

He previously pleaded not guilty to seven counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault.

A trial is due to start in January.

The allegations date from 1971 to 2004 and relate to seven girls and women, one of whom was aged under 13.

Some of the offences were allegedly committed at BBC Television Centre in west London.

‘Unusual circumstances’

Defence lawyer Steve Vullo QC told the judge he had the power to allow defendants to attend their trial via video link in “exceptional circumstances”, which applied to the Australian-born entertainer because of his age and health.

Mr Vullo said: “He is an 86-year-old man and he is settled where he is.

“If he is to attend this trial in person he is likely to be transferred to Wandsworth, which causes him some trepidation.

“We would have to say it is exceptional and we say it is exceptional.”

Wearing a grey suit, white shirt and multi-coloured tie, the former Animal Hospital host appeared via video link for the short hearing on Thursday.

The virtual links are frequently used to allow defendants being held on remand to follow preliminary hearings and for witnesses to give evidence.

But the court heard discussion over whether a defendant has appeared at their own trial using the technology before in the UK.

Judge Alistair McCreath told the court: “I have no personal or anecdotal evidence of a trial being held in this way.”

He added: “This is an elderly man, not in the best of health, who will be much more effectively be able to participate in his trial by following it and giving evidence – if he elects to do so – than if he was here.

“That’s a pretty unusual set of circumstances.

“I have no difficulty in finding that they are exceptional.”

He added that if the technology broke down the trial would have to continue “in his temporary absence”.

Rolf Harris to appear at trial via video link, judge rules

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