There was a time, before the financial crisis struck, when City lawyers travelled by plane. Alas, it is no longer. Nowadays, they take the National Express – a fact evidenced by the strange, strange case of Ladas & Parry solicitor Hugh Wotherspoon...
Wotherspoon, 53, is currently on trial at Carlisle Crown Court, accused of molesting a woman sitting next to him on the Edinburgh-London National Express as it passed through Cumbria late one night last year.
Yesterday, the intellectual property specialist admitted to “trying it on” with the woman, but maintained that he was not guilty of sexual assault because he believed at the time that she was as “comfortable” with it as he was.
Wotherspoon, who lives in Surrey, said that after sitting for so long next to the woman in the bus's cramped seats it seemed natural to stroke her thigh.
So, about 90 minutes into the journey, with no words having been exchanged between the pair, he put his hand on the woman's knee. The Exeter University and College of Law-educated lawyer told the court:
“It seemed suitable and comfortable and proper at the time and I thought she would feel the same...I put my hand on her knee. I thought she might like it. It just seemed right. It didn't seem wrong or terrible in that situation...”
But the woman removed Wotherspoon’s hand with what he termed “a gentle, diffident brush-off”. Undeterred, half an hour later Wotherspoon pushed his hand down between her thigh and his, and started tapping her leg with his fingers.
“I did not have any reason to believe that another touch would be unwelcome,” he explained.
Earlier on, the woman, who comes from London but can't be named, had told the court that she was left “shocked and shaken” by what happened.
“I didn't expect there to be a hand there all of a sudden. I knew I had to do something but I didn't know what to do,” she explained to the jury, adding that Wotherspoon spent half an hour with his hand between her legs before the coach made its scheduled stop at Tebay Services on the M6 – where the lawyer was arrested. She continued: “I was thinking of hitting him or screaming, but you never know how people will react.”
When interviewed by police, Wortherspoon said that he had had no idea his attentions were unwelcome. He has pleaded not guilty to sexual assault. The trial continues.