A former Marks & Spencer worker has been jailed for 10 months for sexually assaulting a disabled woman inside a toilet at the retailer’s Harrogate branch.
Max Chare, 58, attacked the shopper after following her into the disabled toilets at the upmarket store, York Crown Court heard.
Chare had spotted the woman sitting outside the toilets after leaving a store room and sat next to her, ostensibly to comfort her because she seemed upset, said prosecutor Julie Clemitson.
CCTV footage showed the woman, who had a shopping trolley, looking nervous and turning away from Chare as he leaned into her. Chare appeared to stroke the woman’s hand as he spoke to her “very attentively”, added Ms Clemitson.
She then got up to go to the toilet with her trolley and he opened the door for her, before following her in.
Ms Clemitson claimed that after the attack, Chare “scuttled off” and told the victim not to tell anyone.
He left the “shocked and frightened” woman inside the toilets to resume his duties. The “vulnerable” victim remained inside the toilets for nearly 20 minutes to “pull herself together”, said the barrister.
After leaving the store, she walked into a local fire station and told firefighters she had been “pestered” by a man at Marks & Spencer and sexually assaulted.
Police were informed and Chare, of High Street, Knaresborough, was arrested the following day. He was charged with sexual assault but denied the offence and took the case to trial.
Ms Clemitson told the jury that the incident, in March 2017, was clearly not a case of the shop worker “misreading the signals”.
“There was nothing that the victim was doing (outside the toilets) to indicate she wanted physical interaction with him,” she added.
She said the victim, who lives alone, was “a woman with certain limitations (and) fairly naïve”.
Chare claimed he had just been “reassuring” the woman because she was upset but could offer no reasonable explanation as to why he went into the toilets with her.
He said he “assumed she wanted somewhere more private to go with her problems; that she was getting embarrassed outside the toilet”.
He claimed he merely gave her a hug, asked her if she was alright and reminded her to lock the door.
When Ms Clemitson asked Chare if he had gone into the toilets with the woman because there was no CCTV there, he said he would not have carried out such an act in his uniform, “in a place of work, with a name badge”.
Chare’s lawyer Richard Selby Reed said his client had worked at Marks & Spencer “without incident” for 16 years but had lost his job following the incident.
The jury found Chare guilty on Monday after deliberating for five-and-a-half hours.
Judge Andrew Stubbs QC told Chare: “Quite what you were thinking of no-one will ever know, but what is plain… was that you used (the victim) for your own sexual gratification. It must have been extremely disturbing for her (and) she struggled to cope with it.
“She was plainly someone who was vulnerable, someone who needed assistance, and that would have been obvious to you.”
The judge added: “It was, I accept, a short-lived moment of complete madness which was out of character for you, but it has had a significant impact on her.”
Chare will serve half of the 10-month sentence behind bars. He was also placed on the sex-offenders’ register for 10 years.