Disgraced former TV entertainer Rolf Harris will not have to attend his own sex attack trial because of his age and ill health, a judge has ruled. In what could be a legal first Harris will be allowed to follow the trial at London's Southwark Crown Court via a video link from Stafford Prison.
The 86-year-old has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault relating to seven girls and women in historic allegations said to have taken place between 1971 to 2004. One of the complainants was under 13 years old at the time of the alleged attack and some of the offences were allegedly committed at the BBC Television Centre in west London.
During a short hearing on Thursday 15 December, where the entertainer appeared via video link from his prison, defence lawyer Steve Vullo QC told the judge that he had the power to allow defendants to attend their trial via video link in "exceptional circumstances".
Vullo argued that these circumstances applied to Harris because of his old age and ill health. He said according to the BBC: "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."
Video links are often used for short hearings in UK courts where the defendant is remanded in custody, often preliminary hearings, or for witnesses to give evidence. The Australian-born singer's four-week trial is due to start on 9 January 2017.
Judge Alistair McCreath agreed that Harris circumstances are exceptional. He told the court: "I have no personal or anecdotal evidence of a trial being held in this way.
"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."
The earliest allegation Perth-born Harris will stand trial for dates back to 10 July, 1971 when he is alleged to have indecently assaulted a girl under 16. Four other females have made allegations the television personality relating to incidents in 1977, 1978, 2002 and 2004.