SINGAPORE — A former United World College (UWC) of South East Asia teacher who was accused of molesting a colleague’s wife was found not guilty of the offence on Friday (19 July).
Delivering the verdict after a four-day trial, District Judge Jasvender Kaur acquitted Benjamin James Henry, 35, of one count of molesting the 53-year-old Singaporean woman by running his hand down the small of her back to her waist and her buttock cheek.
The judge said that the woman probably perceived bodily contact but it was “unlikely to have been of the exact nature that she had described”.
“I also do not find it safe to accept her evidence that she held onto the (Henry’s) wrist whilst it was still on her buttock.
“In my view, as she did not turn around before she grabbed (Henry’s) wrist, it is probable that the contact with her may not have been by (Henry) but by someone else in the crowd,” said DJ Kaur.
The judge added that she found the woman’s testimony inconsistent in several aspects, including her reaction to the touch, which was only four to six seconds later. The woman had said that she was concentrating on her husband’s conversation.
However, DJ Kaur noted that her husband was merely exchanging pleasantries and failed to see how the woman would have been so distracted that she failed to notice an intrusive touch.
“It was also her evidence that the touch felt like someone whom she knew ‘intimately wanted to fondle’ her and stated that she did not like people to come into her ‘safety social place’. Her lack of reaction is thus hard to accept,” said the judge.
Henry, a Briton, was a primary school teacher and curriculum coordinator at UWC but left in June 2018 after five years of employment.
The woman, who cannot be named due to a gag order, was a healthcare administrator and is married to a teacher who had been with UWC since 2000.
The woman’s husband and Henry were not acquainted with each other despite having the same employer.
The alleged incident
The encounter, which occurred between 16 and 17 June 2017, allegedly took place at the UWC end-of-year function at the Singapore Cricket Club.
According to the prosecution’s account, the couple were leaving the event when the incident happened. At the venue’s main hall, the woman’s husband made small talk and bade goodbye to their friends while making their way towards a staircase. The woman was focusing on who her husband was talking to.
She then felt a hand on her back which moved down to the small of her back before shifting to her right waist and cupping her right buttock cheek.
The woman testified that the contact was continuous and lasted for about four to six seconds. She initially thought that the touch came from a friend who was trying to say goodbye. However, she did not turn around immediately as she was still engaged with her husband’s conversation. It was only when the hand stopped at her right buttock cheek that she felt something was amiss.
She added that she was certain that it was a hand touching her as she could feel the person’s palm and fingers.
Without turning, the woman grabbed hold of whatever that was touching her right buttock with her right hand. She then turned to see that it was Henry’s left wrist, according to Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Lai.
The woman then supposedly asked Henry a series of questions before asking him why his hand was on her buttock. Henry allegedly replied, “Get real, I’m gay”, before flicking her hand away and stomping off.
The two met again at a mediation session on 20 June in an attempt to resolve the incident. Henry believed that the matter was resolved then, but the woman made a police report on 25 November.
The arguments of the defence
During the trial, Henry’s lawyer Raji Ramason, argued that the woman had been consuming alcohol before the alleged incident and had been intoxicated.
According to a member of a band that had been playing for the event, the woman had approached him at the end of his performance to tell him she had a good time.
Recalling the incident, the witness testified that the woman had been “quite drunk” and had stood too close to him, holding his arm and repeating how much fun she had.
Another defence witness recalled that the woman had fallen onto his partner and spilled a glass or red wine onto his partner’s black dress. The woman then fell onto the witness as well.
A longtime friend of the couple had also noted that the woman appeared incoherent and irrational.
“She appeared drunk, her eyes lacked some focus, she certainly wasn’t fully capable on her feet. She was a little bit wobbly when she was doing the sweeping motion,” said the friend. Another witness testified that the woman had been acting aggressive and invading personal space.
The venue had also been crowded and any contact made between Henry and the woman was accidental, argued the lawyer, who also pointed out that the woman’s allegations were inconsistent.
The woman admitted that she had not seen the contact but claimed to know it was Henry’s left hand that touched her. She also claimed that the touch was not accidental but was unable to determine whether the act was intentional or not.
Her testimony during her examination in chief had also differed from the account she had read out in the mediation session, or to those she had given other witnesses and her husband.
Of her account given during the mediation, Ramason said, “There was no mention that (Henry) had cupped her buttock, nor was there any account of the series of questions that (the woman) had asked (Henry) after the alleged contact.”
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