Passenger denies groping girl on Dawlish train

By Crown Court correspondent in Crime

A train passenger allegedly groped a 15-year-old girl’s leg by sliding his hand down the side of her chair as he sat behind.

Michael Whitehead was detained by other travellers on the Exeter to Paignton train after the girl jumped up and shouted: ’Get your hands off me, you weirdo’.

He got off the train at Dawlish but was followed by two passengers who kept hold of him until police arrived to arrest him.

He boarded the train after drinking in Exeter at around 8.30pm and the incident happened between Dawlish Warren and Dawlish stations, Exeter Crown Court was told.

CCTV showed Whitehead sitting behind the girl at the back of a carriage but the alleged touching was out of sight of the camera.

The footage was shown to the jury and showed the girl jumping up suddenly, turning to say something to the man behind her, and moving to another part of the carriage.

Whitehead, aged 39, of Barton Crescent, Dawlish, denies sexual assault.

Mr Jonathan Barnes, prosecuting, said the incident happened as the girl was travelling towards Torbay on the stopping train on the evening of August 27, 2016.

He got on at Exeter Central and sat behind the girl, who noticed him looking at her reflection in the opposite window. He also got up and asked her if the train stopped at Starcross.

Mr Barnes said: ’He was to tell police he had been drinking and that may have had something to do with what happened.

’As the train travelled between Dawlish Warren and Dawlish the girl felt Whitehead’s hand rubbing her leg. He had put his hand between the side of her seat and the side of the carriage.

’She says she felt him rubbing her left thigh over her jeans. At first she thought there might be an innocent explanation and he may be looking for something he dropped.

’She looked down and there was nothing there for him to retrieve and she realised that what he was doing was intentionally rubbing her leg.

’She says it lasted a couple of seconds and he rubbed her leg more than once before removing his hand when she sprung to her feet.

’The girl screamed out something like "get your hands off me, you weirdo" and went to another part of the carriage where she was comforted by other passengers.’

Mr Barnes said the guard was alerted and when Whitehead left the train at Dawlish he was followed and detained by other passengers while the train was kept in the station.

He told one that he never touched her and was trying to get a ticket from the side of the chair. He asked another if he could say sorry and go.

In interview, he told the police he had fallen asleep on the train and woken at Dawlish Warren. He put his hand down the side of the seat to pick up a piece of paper so he could fold it and keep himself awake until he reached Dawlish.

He told the police any contact with the girl’s leg was accidental and he had no sexual interest in her or sexual motive.

The trial continues.