Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Gay verger 'mortified' by cathedral breast grope claim

A verger accused of groping a woman in a cathedral spoke today of his shock at the allegation, telling a jury he had "no wish to touch her breasts".

Nicholas Whitaker, 34, said he was "shocked" and "mortified" when informed that a woman had made an allegation of sexual assault against him.

He told a jury at Leeds Crown Court: "I thought it would be a fun idea to go behind her and give her a brief hug from behind and say 'hello'."

Whitaker, who is openly gay, is alleged to have fondled the woman's bust as she stood talking to the head verger in Wakefield Cathedral.

The incident is alleged to have happened moments before an ordination service last July.

Whitaker, a former housemaster at a Berkshire school and a music graduate from Edinburgh University, demonstrated to the jury how he hugged the woman.

He said his hands were closed and if he did brush against her chest it was "unintentional".

"I don't remember doing so," he told the jury.

"Certainly not my intention to touch her breasts. I would have no reason to touch her breasts, no wish to touch her breasts."

He said hugging someone with "open hands" was an intimate gesture.

"I would never dream of doing that, it's inconceivable," he added.

He said the hug lasted about two seconds - "the time it takes to say 'morning chuck'."

Asked by his barrister Charlotte Worsley if it was possible he had touched the woman's breasts, he replied: "It's not impossible as I reached round some part of my hands or lower arms did come into contact with her breasts.

"It was certainly unintentional on my part," he told the jury.

It is alleged the married woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was fondled for between 30 seconds and a minute as head verger Julie Lovell looked on.

Whitaker, who was a part-time verger and who sung in the choir, denies a single allegation of sexual assault.

When asked about his sexuality, he said: "I don't wave a banner but I don't make a secret of it."

He said he "came out" at university and added that colleagues were aware of his sexuality.

Yesterday the woman at the centre of the allegation told the court: "He put his arms underneath my arms and just grabbed hold of my bust and groped and felt and squeezed. It was awful," she said.

"He just stopped doing it and went off ... I just felt sick, really sick," she told the court.

"I just went straight to the toilet and stood there in disbelief. I gathered my thoughts, I just couldn't believe what had happened," she added.

The woman later reported the incident to the police and Whitaker, of Richmond Road, St John's, Wakefield, was charged with sexual assault.

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