Television 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 Australian-born 86-year-old will be allowed to follow proceedings at London’s Southwark Crown Court via videolink from Stafford Prison, Judge Alistair McCreath said on Thursday.
Harris is accused of indecently assaulting young girls over a period of more than 30 years and a trial lasting around six weeks is due to start in early January.
Defence lawyer Steve Vullo QC told the judge he had the power to allow defendants to attend their trial virtually in “exceptional circumstances”, which applied to Harris 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.”
Harris had previously pleaded not guilty to seven counts of indecent assault and one alternative charge of sexual assault.
He is accused of attacking seven women and girls, one of whom was aged under 13, between 1971 and 2004. Some of the offences were allegedly committed at the BBC Television Centre in west London.
Wearing a grey suit, white shirt and multi-coloured tie, the former Animal Hospital host appeared via videolink 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 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 told Mr Vullo: “I’m doing this really because of Harris’s election to do it. If the technology breaks down then on his own head be it. We will make progress in the trial in his temporary absence.”