'Most horrible moment of my life'

By Jimmy Ellingham

For the first time, Tania Billingsley’s account of being assaulted by a Malaysian diplomat can be made public. Jimmy Ellingham reports
Tania Billingsley speaks out about her ordeal on TV3's 3rd Degree current affairs  programme. Inset: Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman in the dock. Picture / TV3
Tania Billingsley speaks out about her ordeal on TV3's 3rd Degree current affairs programme. Inset: Malaysian diplomat Muhammad Rizalman in the dock. Picture / TV3

It happened so fast. When Tania Billingsley sat down with a police officer five days after she was indecently assaulted by Muhammad Rizalman, she was crystal-clear on some details and hazier on others as she recalled the adrenalin-filled panic.

"I've been in kind of a traumatic situation before where it was the same," she said, in a witness statement to police. "It was the Christchurch earthquake in being in the middle of the city on Cashel St and it was just the same thing of just being at the same time really kind of where things are happening outside but really just the brain just being like, 'do this, do this, do this'."

Ms Billingsley's account of the assault can be told for the first time - she was not required to give evidence in court as Rizalman pleaded guilty on the day his trial was to start.

On May 9, 2014, Ms Billingsley had the day off work. Late that afternoon the Wellington woman went to the dairy, where she saw a man in a suit outside.

She thought about the man she later knew as Muhammad Rizalman: "This guy's a bit creepy. He kind of looked at me as I was walking up and he kind of has this smile on his face. I just assumed that he was ... a bit weird, and I was getting creepy vibes off him."

He was still there, lurking in the middle of the footpath, when Ms Billingsley got back outside. He smiled at her, a "casual, friendly" smile.

"There was just something about him that was very strange." Ms Billingsley walked home. Her flat in the suburb of Brooklyn is up a series of winding, cracked and crumbling steps.

At the top, she paused and in the fading blue wintry light she saw someone below. Surely it was a neighbour or friend.

She went inside and didn't lock the door, assuming it was safe. Ms Billingsley went to her bedroom, fired up her laptop and ate some snacks.

Forty-five minutes later, her viewing was interrupted.

"I heard someone knocking on my door, the door to my bedroom. I thought it was one of my flatmates or one of the people that live next door.

"I said, 'come in' ...

"The guy was acting very casual, normal, he said 'hello, can I come in', like, very calm.

"It was the man I saw earlier at the dairy. He had no pants on, no underwear, and I realised that obviously he had come in to try and assault me in some way. I said, 'get out, you need to leave'." Ms Billingsley jumped off her bed. Wearing only a shirt, Rizalman grabbed her shoulders, as she screamed "get the f**k out of my house".

"He acted really normal. He looked as though nothing was wrong until he grabbed me. The way he spoke was really at odds with what was happening at the beginning." Then his face changed. She wrestled him out of the bedroom into the lounge. She said he reached for her throat at one point, but she pushed him off.

Muhammad Rizalman
Muhammad Rizalman

The pair were grappling, leaving Ms Billingsley with some bruising and marks to her arms.

"I could just see in his face that he wanted to hurt me. It was definitely not an OK situation in that he was intending to do something really f**ked up. I could just see it in his eyes." She went to the kitchen and grabbed a serrated knife, which she held in one hand as she tried to push Rizalman out the front door with the other.

"I've got a knife. I'm going to stab you if you come in," she yelled at him. She was screaming at him the whole time, but doesn't think Rizalman said anything to her.

His foot was stuck in the door but eventually he freed it and Ms Billingsley locked him out.

"I'm not a hugely physical person and I don't think I'm a very aggressive person at all so I'm quite surprised at how instantly my body's reaction was just to get this guy out, do whatever you have to do," she said.

"I'm describing it as though it wasn't that violent. It doesn't sound that intense but it was horrible and really I did, like it was, not fighting for my life, but it was really desperate and I was terrified." She ran to the bathroom, where she locked herself in and rang 111.

Reflecting to police, she thought Rizalman might have been in her flat for a while, watching her through a crack in her door. He left his jacket in the kitchen, with an unopened 500ml Jack Daniels inside, a lighter and bag of pineapple.

"He possibly also took a shit outside our house on the ground," Ms Billingsley said.

"It's just, probably, the most horrible moment of my life."

- NZ Herald

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