A judge has slammed police and prosecutors for failing to question witnesses after a jury took less than 30 minutes to acquit a lawyer accused of groping a woman on a flight from Dubai to Manchester.
Arjmand Ghafoor, 35, was arrested by police on suspicion of sexual assault after an Emirates flight landed at Manchester Airport from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in December 2018.
The corporate lawyer, who was not entitled to legal aid, had to spend tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees to clear his name following a police investigation and a subsequent prosecution.
Mr Ghafoor, from Deritend, Birmingham, denied two counts of sexual assault – and on Friday afternoon a jury at Manchester Crown Court found him not guilty in less than half an hour.
Standing outside the courthouse with his wife after he was cleared, Mr Ghafoor told reporters the probe and prosecution had been ‘devastating for myself and my family and my wife and my children’.
In an extraordinary speech in court, Judge Anthony Cross QC slammed police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for failing to corroborate the complainant’s allegations by questioning any other passengers seated on adjacent rows on the Emirates flight.
Arjmand Ghafoor, 35, had been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault when an Emirates flight landed at Manchester Airport from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in December 2018
The judge thanked the jurors for their deliberations and told them that evidence in such cases is gathered and placed before a custody sergeant who, if they can’t reach a decision, will call a lawyer at the CPS to ask them to consider whether there is sufficient evidence for a charge.
If there is insufficient evidence, the suspect can 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’ now the trial was over.
‘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,’ Judge Cross said.
‘Here, I would have thought… they might have gone to the passengers sitting in front and the passengers sitting behind.’
Judge Cross told jurors: ‘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.’
Judge Cross said the defendant had been awaiting trial for two-and-half years and he was not entitled to legal aid.
The judge said that the law only entitled Mr Ghafoor to claim back the cost of his defence if he decided there had been a failure by the CPS.
Judge Anthony Cross QC slammed police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for failing to corroborate the complainant’s allegations by questioning any other passengers seated on adjacent rows on the Emirates flight
Judge Cross said it was ‘not right’ and announced: ‘I’m going to hold an inquiry as to whether or not he should get his costs back.’
The judge revealed that midway through the trial, he asked the CPS to re-consider its case after one of its own witnesses, a stewardess, gave evidence which ‘did not support their case’.
Judge Cross said: ‘They decided to go on and here we are.’
Following the hearing, Mr Ghafoor said: ‘I’m just very grateful they have come to the right decision. I’m grateful to the jury for considering all of the evidence and thankful for their duty.’
His defence barrister, Kate Blackwell QC, 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.
‘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.
Standing outside Manchester Crown Court (pictured) with his wife after he was cleared, an emotional Mr Ghafoor told reporters the probe and prosecution had been ‘devastating for myself and my family and my wife and my children’
Mr Ghafoor was then accused of having 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, the trial had heard.
The woman’s partner, who was sitting next to her, was unaware of what had allegedly happened as he was watching a film, the court was told.
After speaking to the cabin crew, the woman 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.’
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