Clergyman accused of touching young parishioner's breasts

By Jimmy Ellingham

A jury in the Wellington District Court was today played a DVD of the girl's interview with police last year.
A jury in the Wellington District Court was today played a DVD of the girl's interview with police last year.

A Wellington clergyman is accused of touching a young parishioner's breasts just moments after asking "why are they so big", a court has heard.

The teenage girl says Verghese Thuruthichira Souri, 51, touched her breasts for about a minute on one occasion early last year.

Souri, whose denomination is suppressed, denies the allegation.

A jury in the Wellington District Court was today played a DVD of the girl's interview with police last year.

She said leading up to the alleged touching, Souri had tightly hugged her several times. This made her uncomfortable.

Then he went further.

"He was like, why are your breasts so big and then he touched me. I was really confused, frustrated, angry, sad at the same time. I wanted to cry but I didn't really want to do that," she said.

"When I was explaining it to my parents I cried a lot, because my parents just told me to let it out."

The girl said she didn't say anything to Souri at the time, because if she had, she would have sworn at him.

She didn't immediately tell her parents, only doing so later after first telling a family friend.

But what happened had "haunted" her and she struggled to sleep for days.

The girl said on the day she was touched, Souri later asked if she wanted to "hang out" with him. She declined.

When making his opening statement, defence lawyer Noel Sainsbury asked the jury to consider this language.

He wondered if the phrase "hang out" was a "realistic" one for Souri to use.

Mr Sainsbury also told the jury Souri's occupation was "irrelevant" and that just because an allegation was made didn't make it true.

He said this case was about the alleged deliberate touching of the girl's breasts.

"Quite simply, the defence case is that that did not happen -- no deliberate, no intentional grabbing of the breasts -- nor was there a comment directed about the complainant's breasts".

Crown prosecutor Catherine Gisler said the girl's mother confronted Souri when the allegations came to light and then told police.

In Souri's police interview, he initially denied knowing either the mother or the girl, Ms Gisler said, although Mr Sainsbury said that wasn't the case.

Souri has pleaded not guilty to one charge of doing an indecent act.

The trial, before Judge Chris Tuohy, is expected to finish this week.

- NZ Herald

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