Sexual assault trial – day four

Court news.
Court news.

The jury has started its deliberations in the trial of a north Northumberland man accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls.

Mark Richard Griffiths, 55, of Cow Road, Spittal, Berwick, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault – three of assault by touching and one of assault by penetration with his fingers.

The charges relate to four different girls, who cannot be identified for legal reasons and were aged 16 and 17 at the time, with three of the alleged offences taking place in January this year and the other in August 2014 at parties at the defendant’s house.

However, yesterday, the trial, at Newcastle Crown Court, heard that the prosecution has chosen not to proceed with the third count – of sexual assault by touching – which relates to a girl who claims Griffiths took off her top and bra.

In their closing speeches, on the fourth day of the trial today, counsel for the prosecution and defence both focused on the reliability of the witnesses and their evidence.

Ms Muir, prosecuting, said: “These young ladies would have no reason to make up allegations such as these. There would be no motivation for them to make up these allegations.”

In relation to the first count – assault by touching in August 2014 – she said that while the alleged victim was the last to come forward, ‘she did make it clear (to her mother) that she was unsettled by the behaviour’ of the defendant.

“She didn’t over-egg the pudding. She didn’t exaggerate in her police interview,” Ms Muir added. “Don’t hold the delay against her because she has been consistent throughout.”

Regarding the second count – assault by penetration in January this year – Ms Muir conceded that the alleged victim was very drunk, but said she has been consistent.

“You will have had the opportunity to look at her demeanour and you will also have heard from her friends about her demeanour,” she added.

By contrast, Ms Muir said that Griffiths’ account of events had not been consistent between his police interview and in court, concluding that the jury could be sure that he was guilty of the three offences.

David Callan, defending, opened by emphasising that the prosecution must prove the case, that the defendant does not have to prove anything. “If you are not sure, the decision has to be not guilty,” he added, pointing out that allegations are very easy to make, “as the saying goes”.

Mr Callan said that all the witnesses had drunk ‘an enormous amount of alcohol given their age’, while Ms Muir referred to ‘copious amounts of alcohol’ but which the girls had been ‘encouraged’ to drink.

“Each of the witnesses had had more than the legal limit for driving,” Mr Callan said. “There are strict limits about driving when we have had a drink, not because of puritanical reasons, not because society doesn’t approve of drink, but because your observational powers, your cognitive powers, all your intellectual powers are diminished.”

He went on to say that girls of this age ‘can be prone to being drama queens’ and ‘prone to gossiping with each other’, highlighting that the alleged victims had all of the Sunday and Monday after the party in January to talk to each other before the incidents were reported to anyone on the Tuesday morning.

“Is it reliable?” Mr Callan asked. “Is there not a risk of collusion in this case?”

He concluded by saying that every ‘kindly, responsible act (by Griffiths) has been used against him by the prosecution’. “This man has been unfairly accused of these offences and the evidence is not enough to make you sure of his guilt,” he added.

After the evidence was summed up, the jury was sent out to consider its verdict this afternoon. The deliberations will continue tomorrow.

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