A judge has slammed police and prosecutors after a jury took less than 30 minutes to acquit a corporate lawyer accused of groping a woman on a flight from Dubai to Manchester.
Arjmand Ghafoor, 35, was found not guilty of two counts sex assault on Friday afternoon following a trial at Manchester Crown Court.
Mr Ghafoor, from Birmingham, standing beside his wife after he had been cleared, said: “It’s been devastating for myself and my family and my wife and my children.”
The corporate lawyer, who was not entitled to legal aid, had to spend tens of thousands on legal fees to clear his name following a police investigation and subsequent prosecution which was slammed by the trial judge.
The jurors were sent out to consider their verdicts on Friday afternoon and returned to deliver not guilty verdicts to the two counts of sex assault faced by the defendant after less then 30 minutes of deliberations.
Judge Anthony Cross QC slammed police and prosecutors for failing to corroborate Mr Ghafoor’s accuser by questioning any other passengers seated on adjacent rows.
He thanked the jurors for their deliberations and told them that in such cases evidence is gathered and placed before a custody sergeant who, if they can’t reach a decision, will call a lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to ask them to consider whether there is sufficient evidence for a charge.
If there is insufficient evidence, the suspect could be ‘released under investigation’ while more information is gathered, he said.
Being released under investigation was a ‘new-ish thing which has caused much injustice’, said Judge Cross, who urged the jurors to ‘Google it’.
He went on: “In that time the CPS generally say to the police ‘we are going to put together an action plan’ and that will be an instruction to gather more evidence if it’s available. Here, I would have thought… they might have gone to the passengers sitting in front and the passengers sitting behind.”
He told the jurors they may have experienced how close people are to each other on flights and added: “Generally the person in front and behind are best placed especially if it’s suggested someone has groped someone…. What about the person across the aisle? What about any stewards? Nothing, nothing was done. Just imagine if it had been a relative of yours.”
The judge went on to say the jurors would have expected more enquiries to be carried out but in this case ‘nothing was done’.
“It’s not right,” he said, going on that the defendant had been awaiting trial for two-and-half years, he was not entitled to legal aid and that the law did not entitle him to claim back the cost of his defence unless he decides there has been a failure by the CPS.
“I’m going to hold an inquiry as to whether or not he should get his costs back.”
Judge Cross told the jurors that midway through the trial, he asked the CPS to re-consider their case after one of their own witnesses, a stewardess, gave evidence which ‘did not support their case’.
“They decided to go on and here we are,” said the judge.
Following the hearing, Mr Ghafoor told the M.E.N: “I’m just very grateful they have come to the right decision. I’m grateful to the jury for considering all of the evidence in the proper and thankful for their duty.”
His QC Kate Blackwell said: “This is a case which should never have reached the crown court and despite repeated attempts to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service to consider its prospects of success given the lack of evidence.
“It’s staggering no lawyer saw fit to withdraw the case prior to it being put before the jury.
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“It’s impossible to overstate the effect that being charged with such an offence can have on someone and despite the not guilty verdicts the defendant may well continue to feel the impact of this case for many years to come.”
The trial heard Mr Ghafoor was sitting in the window seat when the woman noticed he was ‘quite agitated’ during a flight in December 2018.
As she was trying to read her book, he ‘touched’ the outside of her leg, before grabbing her inner thigh, it was alleged.
Mr Ghafoor is then alleged to have said to the woman: “If you think my behaviour is inappropriate, please tell me.”
He previously told her that he was a solicitor who was working in Dubai and was returning to the UK to get married, it was said.
The woman’s partner, who was sitting next to her, was unaware what had happened as he was watching a film, the court was told.
After speaking to the cabin crew, she was moved to a different seat, jurors heard.
She said she didn’t want to tell her partner as she ‘didn’t know how he would react’, the court heard.
Mr Ghafoor was arrested after the plane landed at Manchester Airport.
He denied touching the woman, that he had drunk or that he was ‘agitated’, the court heard.
Mr Ghafoor said he had fallen asleep and that the seats next to him were empty when he woke up.
Giving evidence, the woman said: “He was agitated, quite hostile, very jumpy and he had his phone out.”
“He didn’t seem right.
“He went to the toilet for about twenty minutes and people were knocking on the door.
“He returned to his seat and I felt so anxious I couldn’t read my book – I felt in such a state of anxiety that I couldn’t.”
Mr Ghafoor, of Cheapside, Deritend, denied two offences of sexual assault. The jury found him not guilty of both charges.