A member of the Irish Naval Service was cleared yesterday of sexually assaulting a female crewmate on board one of the State’s fisheries patrol vessels.
Judge Brian Sheridan dismissed the charge against the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, because he said there was a doubt as to the sexual nature of the assault.
The defendant, who had denied the single charge of sexual assault of a female on board a naval vessel at Haulbowline on a date in Jun 2012, contrary to Sec 2 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990, fought back tears as the charge was dismissed at Midleton District Court. He left flanked by his parents.
The judge said there were no winners or losers in the case.
“This case highlights the importance to all parties in the workplace of being very aware of their behaviour which can be perceived by one party to be innocent, but by another in a totally different context,” he said.
That there was an assault was admitted, he said, but it was immature and totally inappropriate.
The accused’s solicitor, John Tait, had earlier urged the judge to give his client the benefit of the doubt. He described the contact as foolish, imprudent and immaturely innocent as to its intent, and perhaps a misinterpretation of the bond between the crew.
“My client is guilty of immature and unacceptable behaviour but there was no criminality and no intent,” he said.
In his summing up, the judge said viewing the evidence clinically and in its totality, there was a doubt that the assault was intended to be of a sexual nature.
The court heard on Monday that the defendant had approached the complainant in the ship’s mess area a few days before the alleged assault and asked her for a blowjob, and on another occasion, had asked her to go to a cabin for “a quick one”. He denied those approaches.
The court also heard, on the day of the alleged assault, the defendant slapped the woman’s backside before grabbing her breasts. A female crewmate said the defendant had put his hands on her upper chest area too and pushed her, before doing the same to the complainant.
But she said: “I didn’t see anything malicious in it. I didn’t see anything wrong in it. You join the navy with lads — you’re going to expect a bit of banter.”
The defendant said he was just having “a bit of fun, a bit of laugh with the girls”.
He denied slapping the complainant on the backside and grabbing her breasts.
“There was nothing malicious in what I’d done. I have no idea why she would make this complaint. As far as I’m concerned, we were all friends on this tight ship,” he said.
The complainant told the court on Monday that making a complaint of this nature in a military organisation is frowned upon.
“Your crew look at you differently. They isolate you — it’s not an easy place to be. It can be very daunting,” she said “You are also seen as a traitor for ‘rocking the boat’ and going against the lads — it’s all about the boys.”
She left the naval service shortly after the incident.
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