Jury being picked for Harris trial

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Rolf Harris who appeared at Southwark Crown Court where he pleaded not guilty to 12 charges dating back to the late 1960s Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Rolf Harris who appeared at Southwark Crown Court where he pleaded not guilty to 12 charges dating back to the late 1960s

Jury selection has begun in the trial of veteran performer Rolf Harris.

The 84-year-old is accused of indecently assaulting four girls, the youngest of whom was seven or eight and the oldest 19, between 1968 and 1986, which he denies.

Wearing a blue suit with a white shirt and patterned tie, he appeared at London's Southwark Crown Court today, accompanied by his suited security team and wife Alwen, as well as daughter Bindi, who did not go into the courtroom.

Sitting in the glass-walled dock in a packed courtroom, Harris watched as an initial panel of possible jurors was selected.

Mr Justice Sweeney told the potential jurors: "You have been summoned to this court to take part as potential jurors in the selection of the jury panel from which, hopefully in the next day or two, the jury will be chosen to try the defendant, Rolf Harris.

"It is anticipated that the trial will proceed as soon as the jury has been sworn in.

"The defendant is charged with a number of offences of indecent assault, variously alleged to have taken place in the broad period between 1968 and 1986. The evidence overall includes events in Australia and New Zealand."

He told the potential jurors the trial will last until June 27 at the latest.

Harris's wife Alwen, wearing a patterned dress with a shawl, sat in the public gallery as proceedings began.

The potential jurors were asked three questions:

:: Do you have any connection with this case or with anyone who is involved in it?

:: Do you have a family member or close friend who lives in Australia or New Zealand, or who is going to be visiting Australia or New Zealand before the end of June and with whom you are likely to be in contact during the course of the trial?

:: Is there any other compelling reason requiring you to be excused?

The judge stressed that inconvenience was not a valid reason.

He told them: "A fair trial is the right of all in this country. To state the obvious, the role of the jury is a vitally important one in ensuring the fulfilment of that right.

"In our crown courts, it is the jury consisting of 12 people chosen at random and with no connection with the case who are the judges of the facts and who alone decide what the true verdicts according to the evidence are in the case that they are trying.

"Sitting in judgment on our fellow citizens is one of the most important duties that any of us can be called upon to perform and once summoned, as you have been, it is a duty that must be undertaken unless there is a compelling reason that requires a potential juror to be excused."

He said they should have no connection with the case, so that they are "able to reach true verdicts based on the evidence rather than on any preconceived ideas, beliefs or prejudices".

Harris, from Bray in Berkshire, is facing 12 counts of indecent assault, all of which he denies.

Mr Justice Sweeney told the panel of 17 potential jurors chosen from the pool that they are likely to be called back on Thursday.

He said: "It is vitally important now that you know the case that you may potentially end up as a juror in that you do not, and I underline not, go away and start trying to research this case in any way whether on the internet or otherwise, let alone try to contact anyone involved in the case in any capacity.

"I say no research and no contact with anyone in the case precisely because as I said earlier the jurors who end up trying this case must do so impartially and based only on the evidence given in court during the trial and on absolutely nothing else."

They were also told not to discuss the case. Mr Justice Sweeney told the possible jurors that more potential members may be added to the pool, and that they are likely to be called back on Thursday.

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