Gay verger ‘moved like shadow to grope woman in cathedral’

Nicholas Whittaker
Nicholas Whittaker
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A WOMAN has told a jury how a verger groped her breasts in Wakefield Cathedral moments before an ordination service was due to take place.

Nicholas Whitaker, who also sang in the choir, approached her from behind like “a shadow”, she said, as she was talking to verger Julie Lovell.

“He put his arms underneath my arms and just grabbed hold of my bust and groped and felt and squeezed. It was awful,” she told Leeds Crown Court yesterday.

Whitaker, 34, of Richmond Road, St John’s Wakefield, denies sexual assault on July 2 last year.

Tony Kelbrick, prosecuting, said Whitaker told police he only approached the woman in a friendly way and gave her what he described as a “bear hug”, not involving touching her breasts unless accidentally.

But he said it was the Crown’s case the touching was sexual. “He kept her breasts in his hands – what could it be other than sexual?”

The woman, who cannot be identified, said the incident lasted for about 30 seconds to a minute and then Whitaker just stopped and went off.

“I just felt sick, really sick,” she said. She did not know what to do and it was days later when she decided to formally report what had happened.

Under cross-examination by Charlotte Worsley, defending Whitaker, who had recently started as a part-time verger at the Cathedral, the witness accepted she knew he was “quite openly gay”.

“He was trying to give you a rather clumsy, awkward hug, it may well be that his hands went in the wrong place but you wholly over-reacted to what was meant to be fun” she said.

The woman said that was not the case. “It doesn’t interest me why he has done it,” she said. “I know what he did, it’s on my brain 100 per cent.”

Mrs Lovell said she was shocked and was asked by the woman not to do anything, but told her “if he had done it to me I probably would have given him a smack”.

The trial continues.