Local shocked at ‘friend’ Rolf Harris
WHEN former Clunes resident Cathy Henkel introduced one of her 13-year-old performers to Rolf Harris in 1986, the last thing on her mind was testifying against her long term friend for indecently assaulting her.
"That never ever occurred to me for a moment; I never saw that dark and sinister side of him that's now been revealed," Ms Henkel said.
After being found guilty on 12 counts of indecently assaulting four girls between 1968 and 1986, the Australian-born performer will be sentenced on Friday, London time.
Ms Henkel met Harris and wife Alwen Hughes at a South African hotel in the early 1970s and they quickly struck up a friendship that lasted 40 years.
"He was very charming, he had a nice smile, he was funny and he sort of encouraged me to come to Australia," Ms Henkel said.
"That began a long and rather strange friendship."
In 1978, Ms Henkel moved to Clunes and studied at Lismore's Northern Rivers College to become a teacher.
When the opportunity came to join the Shopfront Theatre in 1982, she moved to Sydney and became a director.
"We took a tour of young people to the UK in 1986 and Rolf had offered to come and meet us at the airport."
During a meeting with the performers at a London pub, Harris indecently assaulted Tonya Lee, 13, by putting his hand up her skirt while she was sitting on his lap.
The ABC reported that Ms Lee testified at Harris's trial that after sitting on Harris's lap he followed her to the toilet and waited outside, only to assault her again.
Ms Henkel said: "Of course I had no idea he had done this to Tonya, who was only 13.
"My memory of it was it was a really lovely night and Rolf was really generous."
But 27 years later Ms Henkel found out about the incident when she was contacted by media last year, then by Scotland Yard and asked to provide a statement.
Within a year Ms Henkel was in Southwark Court testifying against Harris.
Guilt doesn't haunt Ms Henkel over arranging the meeting but she does feel responsible.
"Certainly I did organise the meeting and invite him and I feel really bad about that, but I didn't do anything wrong ... I had no idea that anyone was at risk.
"If I had even an inkling that he might have done something inappropriate I wouldn't have done that."
She welcomed the verdict.
"I do think the evidence was pretty compelling against him," she said.
"I was only surprised they took so long to deliberate."