Clergyman accused of touching parishioner's breasts

By Jimmy Ellingham

The Crown says Souri hugged her several times leading up to the incident. Photo / File
The Crown says Souri hugged her several times leading up to the incident. Photo / File

A jury is considering whether a Wellington clergyman accused of touching a young parishioner's breasts is guilty of indecency.

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

The Crown says Souri hugged her several times leading up to the incident and after he touched her, he asked her to "hang out" for the day.

But the defence says Souri denies any wrongdoing and never asked her to "hang" with him and, at worst, may have touched her breasts accidentally.

His denomination and some aspects about how the alleged touching happened are suppressed, to protect the girl's identity.

The jury of seven men and five women today heard closing statements from both sides.

Crown prosecutor Catherine Gisler said the jury should believe the girl's version of events and decide what happened was indecent.

Although the defence raised doubts about when the alleged touching might have happened, Ms Gisler said "timing issues" shouldn't become a distraction.

"The Crown says it happened and, of course, [the girl's] evidence was very clear on that point."

The defence also doubted Souri would use the phrase "hang out", but Ms Gisler said he might have done in an attempt to relate to the girl.

There was no reason for the girl to lie about what happened to her, Ms Gisler said.

"What motive does [she] have to make this up? I'd suggest she doesn't have one."

The girl didn't immediately tell anyone about the incident. Ms Gisler said that didn't make her evidence any less credible or reliable.

Defence lawyer Noel Sainsbury said doubt about when or if the alleged incident could have happened was not a distraction and was "pretty fatal" to the Crown case.

When the allegations came to light, Souri voluntarily gave a statement to police in which his denials about indecent touching and asking the girl to "hang out" were consistent and clear.

Contrastingly, the girl's story varied in what she told her mother, what she told police and what she said in court, Mr Sainsbury said.

He said the girl on one hand, in "dramatic fashion", said she was haunted by what happened, but had also said she'd forgotten the incident.

At worst, Souri might have accidentally touched the girl and not been aware of it, Mr Sainsbury said.

Judge Chris Tuohy summed the case up, telling the jury to find Souri guilty it would have to be proven he touched the girl's breasts and did so deliberately.

Souri has pleaded not-guilty to a charge of doing an indecent act and has been on trial since Monday.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 27 Oct 2016 16:21:14 Processing Time: 567ms