A blind Tory peer today wept as he was cleared of sexually assaulting a beauty therapist during a massage after touching her body to ‘get a sense of her.’
Lord Christopher Holmes of Richmond, 48, was accused of groping the woman after asking to touch her to get a sense of what she looked like on March 7 last year.
The masseuse consented to him touching her face when he asked ‘can I see how you look?’, believing that is what blind people did, but alleged he said ‘nice’ after grabbing her bottom.
She claimed he had asked her ‘can I touch your boobs’ and ‘do you do extras?’, adding ‘are you sure you’ve never done it?’ when she replied ‘no, I am a professional’.
Lord Holmes denied any wrongdoing, saying that the allegations had arisen out of a misunderstanding when he had asked to touch the masseuse’s face.
A jury at Southwark Crown Court today returned their not guilty verdict on one count of sexual assault after just over five hours of deliberations.
Lord Christopher Holmes of Richmond (left outside court and right), 48, had been accused of pointing to his crotch and asking if the woman did ‘extras’ at a five star hotel’s spa on March 7 last year
Asked if he wanted to give any comment following the verdict, Lord Holmes said: ‘Not at the moment.’
Lord Holmes, who went blind almost overnight at the age of 14, was accompanied by his guide dog Nancy in the dock throughout the trial.
He insisted he used touch with consent ‘to get a sense’ of people and denied claims that he was trying to take ‘some sort of sexual advantage’ of the woman.
‘My world would stop here [in front of me] if I couldn’t contact that external world that you can get in the blink of an eye, and I try to use everything I’ve still got to try and construct that world,’ Lord Holmes told the jury.
‘So, through sound, smells, and, yes, touch, but touch as a means of being able to construct that world, touching objects, and, yes, touching people every single day.’
Holmes (centre with his medals), who is a life peer in the House of Lords, is Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer, with a total of nine golds, five silvers and one bronze
He continued: ‘[It’s] to get a sense of that other person – not to make a facsimile or an oil painting of them, just having a sense of that other person who was in a room that I didn’t really know, with a person I don’t know, lying on my back and feeling completely vulnerable.’
Lord Holmes: Swimming champ who turned to politics
Lord Holmes was a champion swimmer, winning six gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games and three at the Atlanta Paralympics.
He also broke 35 world records before moving into top roles in sports management and politics.
He was director of Paralympic integration for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games before taking his seat in the House of Lords in 2013.
His website says he campaigns for more accessible environments for disabled people and has been asked to head a Government review that will make recommendations on how to encourage more disabled people to apply for public appointments.
Lord Holmes has also sat on a number of House of Lords select committees and has introduced a private members bill to tackle unpaid internships.
He said he and his wife Stephanie had made a New Year’s resolution to get fitter, and that he had booked the deep tissue treatment to help with tight muscles.
Lord Holmes was helped from the dock by his wife and with his guide dog following today’s verdict, rubbing his eyes and repeatedly breathing sighs of relief.
The trial heard the complainant went on to complete the last few minutes of the treatment.
She said she did not just leave immediately because she was worried about Lord Holmes hurting either himself or his guide dog in the small treatment room.
The woman immediately told her manager about what had happened, and the agency that employed her.
In a message to her boyfriend, she told him: ‘[It was] my fault as I stayed in the room.’
During cross-examination, the complainant had notes from her counselling sessions and her victim impact statement read out as evidence she was either exaggerating or overthinking the incident.
The court heard the complainant had referred to the incident as ‘my sexual abuse’ in her impact statement and in conversations with a counsellor.
Holmes, who is a life peer in the House of Lords, is Britain’s most successful Paralympic swimmer, with a total of nine golds, five silvers and one bronze.
Following his retirement from professional swimming he was elevated to the House of Lords in 2015.
He has also had a successful career as a solicitor, earning a degree in law in 2002.