Vicar denies groping passenger on Trans-Atlantic Flight and making sleazy comments
A vicar has denied he groped a sleeping passenger during a transatlantic flight after making "sleazy comments" and said he spoke to the stranger about mindfulness, not masturbation.
Reverend Peter McConnell is accused of touching a 23-year-old American PHD student under a blanket on overnight flight 0066 from Philadelphia to Heathrow in March 2017, after drinking up to ten small bottles of wine.
The 64-year-old clergyman is claimed to have asked the student if he had been to "titty bars", questioned whether he was "mischievous" and talked about masturbation as a stress reliever.
It is claimed McConnell talked about God and asked his victim for forgiveness after the sex assault.
The vicar, who had been in the USA to visit his sister after she suffered a serious illness, denies one charge of sexual assault and is being tried by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court.
Speaking from the witness box, the vicar said the US trip had been the last time he saw his sister as she died shortly afterwards.
He said he had up to five of the quarter bottles of wine during the flight to Heathrow but denied he was drunk.
McConnell said he had struck up a conversation with the student "about everything and nothing".
The vicar admitted he had spoken to the student about "titty bars" but denied mentioning masturbation as a form of stress relief.
He told jurors he had spoken to the student about his godson, who had accompanied him on the trip and added: "I did explain why I had gone on the trip and that it was tinged with a little bit of sadness.
"I said how fortunate I was he was prepared to come with me and give me some support at a difficult time but it was not all work for
him, he did manage to go out hunting on the Friday and to a titty bar on the Saturday.
"I said I didn't go with him and had watched a film with my sister, it was not my sort of thing and he said his neither."
McConnell, who was vicar at St Helen's Church, in Longhorsley, Northumberland, said he and the student talked about stress and added: "We talked about the way the world is and how stressed people are because of the amount of work they are expected to do and things like that.
"I talked about mindfulness, which was very much a subject of the day and still is. People are adopting mindfulness processes to relieve stress and relax."
McConnell's barrister Lorraine Mustard asked the vicar if he had mentioned masturbation as a way of stress relief and he replied: "I say he has been terribly mistaken, it is not a thing I would have said."
The vicar said he passed the student a blanket, still in its plastic bag, and put his own blanked over himself while he had a 15 to 20 minute nap towards the end of the flight.
When asked if he had touched the student under his blanket, the vicar said "no, I did not".
And when asked about the amount he had to drink, he replied: "I definitely had two of the quarter bottles before dinner and I had two arrive that I asked for with dinner. I may have had another one after. It certainly hasn't been more than four bottles, maybe five."
McConnell denied claims by prosecutor Andrew Espley that he was drunk on the flight and added: "I know how to handle my drink on a flight. We have established I have made that journey many times before, I know how much I can drink and be responsible."
The clergyman admitted during cross examination he had visited a "titty bar" in the past and said "it was many years before, with my wife" and said they are "perfectly innocent places for people who like that sort of thing".
McConnell said he could not speculate why the student has made the accusations against him and added: "It simply did not happen".
The trial continues.