SINGAPORE: The chief of operations at an advertising firm who was accused of molesting a copywriter at a company dinner and dance event has been acquitted.
In a judgment released on Tuesday (Apr 11), District Judge Christopher Goh outlined his reasons for clearing the man of the charge – mainly that the prosecution had not proven its case and that closed-circuit television footage (CCTV) was in the man’s favour.
The parties were not named due to a gag order protecting the purported victim’s identity.
On Jan 29, 2020, employees of the company went for a dinner and dance function at a restaurant in Havelock Road.
The chief of operations was seated at a table towards the back of the restaurant.
At about 10pm, the emcee announced that the chief had won one of the top three prizes in a lucky draw – two tickets to Japan.
He began making his way to the stage from his table. As he did so, he passed the 25-year-old copywriter, who was standing behind her friend’s chair.
The man was accused of touching and patting the right side of the woman’s hip with his hand, knowing it would outrage her modesty.
The court heard that the copywriter worked in a different team from the chief. Although she knew him, they had little interaction with each other and she reported via a separate chain of command.
She was talking to her colleagues at the time and was standing behind a chair where her friend was seated. The copywriter’s boss was on stage, calling out recipients of the lucky draw.
According to the woman, as the chief made his way to the stage, everyone was clapping and looking at him.
As he approached her, she congratulated him. She said he then placed his right hand on her shoulder and mumbled “sorry”.
The woman took this as an indication that he needed more space to get past her and tried to move closer to her friend.
By then, the chief was behind her, with the front of his body facing the back of hers.
She said she felt his hand move down to her lower right hip. She immediately turned to her right and his hands were still on her right buttock area, and she said he patted her buttock area a few times before moving off.
The woman was in shock and felt violated. She tried to process what happened, and recalled that one of her senior female colleagues grabbed her arm and asked what happened.
The woman told her that the chief had just touched her. The senior colleague was visibly upset and shocked, and said she would inform the copywriter’s boss.
The copywriter later sent a message to her boss describing what happened and left the restaurant. She then stood at the entrance and cried.
When other executives tried to talk to the chief of operations about the incident, the latter became aggressive and defensive, denying that he had touched anyone.
WITNESSES FROM THE NEXT TABLE
The prosecution called witnesses from the table adjacent to the copywriter’s. One woman recalled that the chief tapped the copywriter’s butt or hip area and then “brushed through” her hip and butt, as he walked by.
This witness said she was shocked as there was sufficient space behind the woman for him to walk past, so there was no need for any physical contact.
Another witness testified that the chief had slipped his hand from the woman’s waist, down to the top of her right buttock and patted it thrice before walking by. This witness said the woman looked shocked.
A third witness said she saw the chief trying to pass the woman, but could not do so as there was not enough space. She said he initially used his hands to hold the woman’s elbow and shoulder, signalling to her to move aside.
After the woman moved a few steps to the side, the chief moved past her, moved his hand towards her back area and gave her three taps.
The chief of operations took the stand in his own defence. He said he had been playing cards at the back of the restaurant when he found out he had won the third prize.
As he was walking towards the stage, his mind was on collecting the prize and returning to his table. As the copywriter was blocking his way, he just moved her aside or shifted her without thinking, he said.
He did not recall where he came into contact with her. He said he was shocked and angry when told about the woman’s allegation, as he did not remember touching anyone.
To clear the air, he spoke to the woman with two others present, and apologised, saying he could have moved her instinctively with his hand.
The woman acknowledged the apology and said “don’t ever do it again”, but this angered the chief as he claimed what happened was unintentional.
The woman later lodged a police report.
THE JUDGE’S FINDINGS
Judge Goh said the charge detailed that the chief touched and patted the right side of the woman with his hand, knowing it would likely outrage her modesty.
He said CCTV footage clearly showed the man placing his hand on the woman’s right hip. However, the main dispute was whether he patted her hip.
Judge Goh said the CCTV footage did not show where the supposed patting occurred.
He said he had doubts as to the quality of the evidence provided by the prosecution witnesses. Two of them gave the impression that the passageway was more than adequate for the chief to pass through without touching anyone, implying that the latter had deliberately walked close to the woman to touch her.
Both women also said they clearly saw the chief pat the woman’s hip.
However, Judge Goh said the CCTV footage clearly showed otherwise. There was inadequate space for the chief of operations to walk past the woman without any contact being made, as the path was blocked by a waiter.
Judge Goh said the women only realised that the passageway was blocked by the waiter after seeing the CCTV footage, and could not explain why they had not noticed him earlier.
While a third witness had stated that the passageway was blocked by the waiter, she seemed unsure as to when the pats occurred when the CCTV footage was reviewed frame by frame.
“Having reviewed the evidence, in particular, the CCTV footage, I am unconvinced that the prosecution had proved that the accused had patted (or tapped) any part of the victim’s right hips. At its very highest, I am only able to conclude that the accused’s right hand did touch the victim’s right hip as he walked past her,” said the judge.
On whether the man had the intention to outrage the woman’s modesty, the judge said the man’s movements as shown in the CCTV footage were consistent with someone intent on making his way to the stage to collect his prize and back to his table to continue with his card game.
“His actions seen on the CCTV footage are consistent with someone who was trying to squeeze through a blocked passage. He gently pushed the victim, a colleague, aside whilst trying to prevent any further bodily contact, and nudged the waiter, a stranger, aside,” said Judge Goh.
“Further, the victim’s own evidence is that the accused uttered ‘sorry’ as he went past the victim. In my view, this gives more credence to the accused’s description of what happened and seen together with the CCTV footage.”
The judge said he was satisfied that while the man had put his hand on the woman’s hip, he did not know that this would outrage the woman’s modesty.
“At the end of the day, the onus is always on the prosecution to prove these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not for the accused to prove otherwise. The allegation against the accused was serious and it was fortunate that there was CCTV footage available to assist the court in coming to its conclusion,” said the judge.
He said that while the woman strongly felt that her modesty had been outraged by the man, the objective evidence told a different story, rendering a conviction “unsafe”.
The prosecution is appealing against the acquittal.