Friday, 30 Oct 2020

Juror thrown off trial after he ‘cupped usher’s bum cheeks and pulled bra strap’

A man was thrown off of jury duty after he groped a court usher while loudly announcing he was checking her underwear, Hastings Magistrates Court heard.

David Houghton, 58, approached a female usher on July 24, 2019, at Maidstone Crown Court where he was taking part in jury duty.

Trouble began the day before when the bus driver loudly loudly announced in front of fellow-jurors: "Ain't that better than yesterday's usher?"

Houghton’s behaviour worsened the next day, when he rubbed the woman’s thighs, cupped her bum and pinged her bra strap in front of other jurors.

Prosecutor Mr Simon Allen told Hastings Magistrates Court the defendant first touched her on July 23 when he "wrapped his arms around her like a bear hug" and clearly tried to kiss her".

He said: "The case goes on and at the close of court at 4pm the usher has the jury in the retiring room and instructs them to come back tomorrow, giving them the time.

"The defendant ask her to repeat the time, saying: 'That's dinner, me and you'.

"He approached her and wrapped his arms around her like a bear hug and she is almost dragged up on her tiptoes.

"He clearly tries to kiss her, but missed and his cheek touched her cheek, leaving a red mark with his stubble.

"She said: Thanks very much, but don't do that again."

The usher did not initially act on Houghton's advancements, Mr Allen said, and decided to "put it behind her" until the next day.

Houghton approached the woman in front of jurors for a second time and he rubbed "her thighs a couple of times" and "moves them up and cups her bum cheeks.

Mr Allen said: "He leans over and using both hands rubs her thighs a couple of times and keeping his hands on her thighs moves them up and cups her bum cheeks, almost touching her crotch.

"He pulls her bra strap and lets go and this was seen by the other jurors.

"She is flustered and gets the jurors back in court and the judge sees that she is distressed so the court rises and she goes into the judge's chambers."

In chambers, Mr Allen said the woman told the judge about Houghton's behaviour and he was "shocked to hear what happened".

Mr Allen said: "The judge is shocked to hear what happened and discusses it in his chambers with both the prosecution and defence counsel and they agree to discharge Houghton from the jury and he is escorted from the building.

"Other jurors made statements and confirmed what this lady was talking about," said the prosecutor.

"I take this as a very serious incident. It would be bad enough in the confines of a pub, but here it is undeniably worse.

"People are going about their public duties. Houghton is a juror and needs to concentrate on that and the usher facilitates that."

The victim was "adversely effected" by Houghton's behaviour, Mr Allen told the court.

He said: "The usher has been adversely effected by this and even though she describes herself as being made of 'stern stuff' this has upset her.

"The victim wants to do a detailed victim impact statement."

Houghton, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault, was bailed for a pre-sentence report until October 28 at Folkestone Magistrates Court.

Bailing Houghton for sentencing magistrate John Ioannou announced: "This is a serious matter and all options are open, including committal to the crown court."

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