News World Harris ‘a great hugger’

Harris ‘a great hugger’

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Rolf Harris, according to his alleged victims, is a dirty old man, a serial abuser who was so “handy” he eventually earned the nickname “the octopus”.

But to those standing by him, the embattled entertainer is “tactile”, in a warm and friendly way.

He’s a “greater hugger” who innocently envelops everyone he meets whether they are young or old, male or female.

A string of supporting witnesses appeared in Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday and they all said the same thing.

Choreographer Douglas Squires has worked with Harris for decades.

Backstage they were often surrounded by beautiful dancers in various states of undress.

Harris “never showed any voyeuristic tendencies”, Mr Squires told the jury in the 84-year-old’s child sex abuse trial.

“He was very tactile, we all were.

“(But) he was like that with everybody, young and old.”

The choreographer, who created the Young Generation and Next Generation dance troupes, insisted Harris’s hugs were never sexual or inappropriate.

BBC producer Tina Fletcher-Hill worked alongside Harris on Animal Hospital and then Rolf on Art.

She describes him as affectionate, kind and honest.

“He greets people with hugs, that’s just Rolf,” Ms Fletcher-Hill said via videolink from the United States.

“I never witnessed anyone pulling back or feeling uncomfortable with his tactile nature.”

The producer told the jury Harris was happy to say to a perfect stranger “My God you’re beautiful” – but it would never be in a sexual way.

Fellow character witness Jo Charles got to know Harris from the late 1960s because her father Don Charles was managed by the same agent.

He ended up running Harris’s club in Malta where a woman claims the Australian assaulted her in 1970 when she was 18.

But Ms Charles told the court she’d “never” seen Harris act inappropriately.

“He’s lovely, he’s gentle and kind, a real softy,” the witness said.

“He’s very, very tactile, he’s a great hugger, he’d give big bear hugs.”

Ms Charles said when she was older Harris would make comments such as “Aren’t you a curvy girl” and “You’ve got lovely curves”.

But she didn’t mind because it was done in a warm rather than lurid way.

The family friend described the celebrity as eccentric and spontaneous.

He’d make funny noises at dinner or burst into song.

“He’s very, very unusual,” she said.

Anne Marie Eve grew up on the same street where Harris and his wife Alwen still live in Bray west of London.

Ms Eve told the court the former TV presenter would envelop everyone he met in a big hug including her physician father.

Hugging both females and males was “two ends of the tactile spectrum”, she said.

Ms Eve admitted as a girl she found it irritating when Harris would joke “When are you going to marry me?” but she insisted he’d never groped her.

Former TV presenter Rosemarie Ford said Harris was a delight to work with and he gave “lovely warm hugs” that were always appropriate.

The entertainer is charged with assaulting four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.

He’s also accused of harassing another six women in Australia, New Zealand and Malta.

Many of the alleged victims say the assault started with a friendly hug. Harris insists all the women are lying.

The defence is expected to close its case on Thursday.

Following lawyers’ speeches and Justice Nigel Sweeney’s summing up, the jury is likely to retire in the middle of next week to consider its verdict.