A Lurgan man who sexually assaulted a staff member in a shop has been spared a prison sentence.
Instead, Milne Jones (48), of Atherton Square, was sentenced to 18 months of probation and a restraining order was imposed in favour of the victim for two years.
He appeared – accompanied by his family – before Craigavon Magistrates’ Court on Friday (January 12) charged with one count of sexual assault.
At the outset of the hearing, his defence barrister, Aaron McKenna, cited a doctor’s email stating that there had been an issue in regards to the defendant’s ‘mental state’.
District Judge Rafferty noted there was “nothing in there that sets him apart from 50% of the population”.
The judge also noted that the defendant was “now regretting” entering a guilty plea and “denies certain aspects of the offence”.
Mr McKenna, however, stated that it was an “absolute unequivocal plea” and there was “full acceptance of the allegations in this case”.
The facts of the case were then outlined to the court.
The court was told that police received a report of the incident, which occurred on May 3 last year at approximately 9:45pm.
The complainant had been in her place of work, in a Lurgan shop, when the defendant entered the store.
She alleged that he hugged her and made a comment about not seeing her in a long time.
She further alleged that the defendant “kissed her around the neck”, at which point she pulled away and said he was wrong for kissing her, before returning to her work duties.
The complainant then said she leaned over to change dates on bread, when the defendant came up behind her and placed his hand on her bottom, sliding it towards the vaginal area.
The contact was made through clothing.
The complainant then informed Jones that his actions were wrong, making efforts to leave the area and reporting the incident to her manager.
She recorded a statement with police and CCTV was obtained which showed the defendant’s conduct in full.
At interview, Jones claimed that he hugged the complainant but didn’t kiss her. He eventually admitted to touching her bottom but denied it was for sexual gratification, claiming he was trying to recover a sticker.
In mitigation, Mr McKenna said: “There is no suggestion of any pre-meditation. He met this woman by complete chance. He has completely misunderstood his interaction with her.
“He takes full responsibility for what he did but it was a spontaneous action on his part in a situation where he didn’t know that he would run into this woman in this particular shop.”
He added: “I don’t, under any circumstances, seek to undermine the seriousness of the matter. The defendant is fully aware of that.
“He comes from an extremely respectable family. I think this particular offence has caused devastation in the family unit but the defendant is a very lucky person in that his family are greatly supporting him.”
Asking the judge to deal with the case as a “one-off”, Mr McKenna added that his client, who has a “pretty limited record”, had never been accused of a similar offence before and had said he would never do anything like this again.
Judge Rafferty, on passing sentence, remarked: “This a serious charge. A serious matter. The court takes this kind of behaviour – at risk of repeating myself – seriously.
“The reason a pre-sentence report was requested was because your behaviour passed what’s called the custodial threshold.”
He added: “I choose not to send you to jail. That in no way is an indication of any minimisation of the harm that has been caused to the complainant in this case.”