A Portlaoise taxi driver was last week found not guilty of sexually assaulting a female passenger, following a two-day trial at the Portlaoise Circuit Court.
Judge Terence O’Sullivan warned the jury that it would be dangerous to convict, as there was no corroborating evidence in the case which rested on the testimony of a 27-year-old Portlaoise woman who claimed she fell asleep in the man’s taxi and awoke to find him assaulting her.
The 50-year-old man, who cannot be named, pleaded not guilty to sexual assault, at a location in the Mountrath area on November 4, 2012.
The court heard that the woman had been attending a Halloween party at a neighbour’s house, and a taxi was ordered after 3am by the host for the woman and two others. The woman contacted her mother to tell her about the taxi. Although she lived close to the party, the woman decided first to accompany the other two passengers to be dropped off in Abbeyleix. The woman fell asleep in the taxi on the way back to Portlaoise. She claimed she awoke at the to find the taxi driver with his hand down her trousers, “at my vaginal area”.
She said she struggled with him and told him to get off, but he “kept kissing me and asking me was I ready for it”.
She claimed she was able to activate her phone to call her mother. She said she could hear her mother screaming her name, and eventually the man got off her and continued with the journey. She claimed he again stopped not far from her house and tried to get back on her.
She claimed that when she was getting out of the taxi, the man grabbed her by the arm and said: “Just remember, you’re drunk and I’m sober, no one’s ever going to believe you.”
She told the court she’d drunk “a few bottles of West Coast Cooler” at the party, but still had her wits about her. She claimed that when she and the other two passengers got into the taxi, the driver suggested to her that she come with them to Abbeyleix.
Defence for the accused, Mr Colman Cody said his client claimed it had been the complainant who had suggested going to Abbeyleix for a spin. The woman disagreed with this.
Through the course of cross-examination, the woman said that when they were struggling she had tried to push the man away from her with her right hand, while she activated her phone with her left. Mr Cody said that in her statement to gardaí, she had said she reached into her pocket and hit redial on the phone.
“If it was in my pocket I took it out, but I remember it was in my hand,” she said, adding that she did not call out because she was afraid.
Mr Cody said that “it simply isn’t credible” that the man would drive on after the alleged incident and then grab her again when they were almost at her house.
“It did happen,” she replied.
Mr Cody put it to her that she had made up a serious allegation against his client, as she had to come up with an explanation for her mother as to why it had taken her so long to come home in the taxi. The witness gave no verbal response.
The woman’s mother gave evidence that she texted her daughter at 3am to ask her if she wanted a lift home, to which her daughter replied that she was getting a taxi. After a while she began wondering what was taking her so long, and she received a phone call from her daughter at around 4am.
“When I spoke there was no answer, but I heard music and a ruffling noise in the background,” she said.
She went on to say that she thought the call was cut off from the other end, so she tried to ring her daughter but got no answer.
“Ten or fifteen minutes later I got a call from her saying ‘Come quick’, she sounded terrified,” said the witness.
She said her daughter then entered the house within a matter of seconds and was “absolutely terrified, she was shaking from head to foot”.
In response to questioning from Mr Cody, she said she couldn’t exactly describe the “ruffling noise” she heard on the phone.
Garda Denise Bolton gave evidence that the defendant told gardaí: “I didn’t sexually assault anybody, I didn’t touch anyone… I did not stop and I did not have my hands in her pants.”
He also said: “I am a family man of 48 years, I don’t need to be going off with any young ones.”
Garda Bolton agreed with Mr Cody that there was no mention in the garda notes that the woman was touched in the vaginal area, nor was there any mention in notes written by the complainant’s mother.
In his directions to the jury, Judge Terence O’Sullivan noted that “there’s drink in this case”. He said there was no evidence of bruising, and initially no mention of touching to the vaginal area. The judge said the complainant’s mother’s reference to hearing a radio and “a ruffling noise” on the phone sounded like “a pocket call”.
“If this was a call made in some way to get help, why was nothing done or said?” he said. “You must exercise caution in convicting in the absence of corroborative evidence. There’s a considerable danger in convicting in this case.”
The jury took some 40 minutes to return a unanimous verdict of not guilty.