A blind peer and former Paralympian has described his experience of being accused of sexually assaulting a masseuse as a “nightmare”.
Lord Holmes of Richmond was cleared of a single charge that he had groped the beauty therapist towards the end of a deep tissue treatment at a five-star London hotel.
The 48-year-old, a nine-time swimming Paralympic gold medallist, was visibly relieved and emotional after the jury returned its not guilty verdict at Southwark Crown Court on Thursday, following around five hours of deliberations.
He had been accused of groping the woman on March 7 last year after asking to touch her to get a sense of what she looked like, but he denied any wrongdoing, saying the allegations had arisen out of a misunderstanding when he had asked to touch her face.
Lord Holmes, who went blind almost overnight at the age of 14, had explained to the jury he used touch to get a sense of the people around him.
“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 them.
“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.”
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.”
After the verdict, he said there is “misunderstanding” about how blind people “need to construct some idea of the external world” but said the jury had understood.
In a statement to the PA news agency he thanked his family and friends for supporting him “throughout this nightmare”.
He said his lawyers had “never tried to suggest I should be found not guilty out of sympathy for my disability”.
He added: “It is clear that there is still misunderstanding about how blind people need to construct some idea of the external world.
“I do not want to say anything unkind about the specific allegation once made about me in this case. But after 18 months of waiting for my trial, the jury understood.”
The trial heard that 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” as he ran his hands over her body.
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”.
At the time, Lord Holmes was covered only by a towel, having removed the paper underpants provided because they had torn, the trial heard.
Mr Holmes, with an address in Richmond, Surrey, was accompanied by his guide dog Nancy in the dock during the trial and for the sentencing, and was helped from the court by his wife Stephanie after being cleared.
The trial heard how he and his wife had made a new year’s resolution to get fitter and that he had booked the deep tissue treatment to help with tight muscles.
The court heard the complainant went on to complete the last few minutes of the treatment, saying she did not leave immediately because she was worried about Lord Holmes hurting either himself or his guide dog in the small treatment 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.
Lord Holmes retired from sport in 2002 and was appointed to the House of Lords in 2013.
He has also had a successful career as a solicitor, earning a degree in law in 2002.