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Entertainer Rolf Harris charged with 13 child sex offences

Australian singer Rolf Harris performs with his wobbleboard at the Glastonbury Festival 2010 in south west England, June 25, 2010 file photo
Australian singer Rolf Harris performs with his wobbleboard at the Glastonbury Festival 2010 in south west England, June 25, 2010 file photo

By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Australian entertainer Rolf Harris was charged with 13 child sex offences on Thursday as part of an investigation by British police into child abuse that has led to the arrest of more than a dozen aging celebrities.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Harris, 83, faced nine counts of indecent assault related to two girls aged under 16 in the 1980s, and four offences of making indecent images of a child last year.

Harris has been a family favorite in Australia and Britain for more than 50 years, hosting TV shows and producing chart hits like "Two Little Boys" and "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" while playing the didgeridoo and his own invention, the wobble board.

A keen artist, he painted Queen Elizabeth's portrait in 2005 and was honored by her for his services to entertainment and charity. He performed at her 2012 Diamond Jubilee concert.

Alison Saunders, chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, said the charges against Harris were part of Operation Yewtree, the investigation sparked by revelations that the late BBC TV host Jimmy Savile was a prolific child sex abuser.

"We have determined that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is in the public interest," Saunders said in a statement.

She said six offences of indecent assault related to a girl who was 15 and 16 at the time, in 1980 and 1981, and three offences of indecent assault related to a girl aged 14 in 1986.

The offences of making indecent images of a child were alleged to have been committed between March and July last year.

CARTOONIST AND CULT FIGURE

Harris, who was born in Perth but has lived in Britain for more than 50 years, was first interviewed by police last November and arrested in March but released on bail pending further investigations. He denied all wrongdoing.

He will appear in court on September 23. His lawyers and publicist did not respond to emails and phone calls for comment.

Harris has been a regular fixture on British and Australian TV since the 1960s, in shows such as "The Rolf Harris Show", "Rolf's Cartoon Club" and "Animal Hospital". He was axed as host of the British TV show "Animal Clinic" after his arrest.

In recent years the bearded, bespectacled entertainer gained minor cult status and performed at Glastonbury, Britain's biggest music festival.

Operation Yewtree was set up after it emerged after Savile's death in 2011 that the TV star of the 1970s and 1980s committed sex crimes on an unprecedented scale over six decades.

The operation developed three strands: one looking at Savile, a second at allegations against "Savile and others", and a third on complaints arising against people unconnected to Savile. Harris fell into the third category.

The inquiry has led to the arrests of 14 men involved in the British entertainment industry in the 1970 and 1980s, with four people charged so far.

Charges have also been laid against former BBC Radio 1 DJ Dave Lee Travis, celebrity publicist Max Clifford, and former BBC chauffeur David Smith.

Those arrested and released on bail pending further investigations include former glam-rock singer Gary Glitter and comedians Freddie Starr and Jimmy Tarbuck.

(Editing by Stephen Addison and Sonya Hepinstall)

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