Man cleared of train grope charge

By Crown Court correspondent in Crime

A TRAIN passenger has been cleared of groping a 15-year-old girl’s leg by sliding his hand down the side of her chair as he sat behind her.

Michael Whitehead was found not guilty by a jury at Exeter Crown Court after telling them he had been reaching for a piece of paper which was down the side of the seat.

He said he fell asleep on the train to Dawlish from Exeter Central and had woken up around Dawlish Warren and wanted to find out what was on the paper.

He hoped it would keep him awake so that he did not miss his destination station at Dawlish.

The jury cleared him after watching CCTV from the train in which his hand was out of sight of the camera.

The footage did show the girl jumping up, turning to direct a comment at him, and moving to another part of the carriage where she was comforted by other travellers.

Mr Whitehead was detained as he got off the train by passengers who had seen the girl jump up and heard her shout : ’Get your hands off me, you weirdo’.

The Paignton-bound train was delayed at Dawlish station until police arrived to arrest him.

Mr Whitehead, aged 39, of Barton Crescent, Dawlish, denied sexual assault and was found not guilty.

During a two-day trial the prosecution alleged Mr Whitehead got onto the train after drinking in Exeter on the night of August 27 last year and sat directly behind the 15-year-old.

She said she saw him staring at her reflection in the opposite window and then felt his hand come through the gap between the seats and touch her thigh over her jeans.

She looked to see if there was a dropped ticket or anything else he may have been reaching for but could not see anything. She said he touched her twice before she got up and called him a weirdo.

Mr Whitehead said he had just woken up and was reaching for a piece of paper down the side of the chair which he hoped would keep him awake.

He said he planned to fold it to create a diversion which would prevent him falling asleep before he was due to get off at the next station. 

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