Spa masseur gets probation after admitting to groping female tourist

Court hears how relaxing spa experience ended up as a nightmare for a British tourist who was groped by a masseuse

The British tourist asked the masseuse to stop his abusive behaviour but he continued (File photo)
The British tourist asked the masseuse to stop his abusive behaviour but he continued (File photo)

What should have been a relaxing spa experience ended up as a nightmare for a British tourist who was groped by a masseur who ignored her pleas to stop. 

This emerged in court as Kerala-born Harikrishna Manhasseri, 25, of Mgarr, was arraigned before Magistrate Leonard Caruana, charged with having committed a non-consensual sexual act on the woman, at the Maritim Antonine Hotel’s spa, during the evening of 29 October.

In addition to charging the man, police Inspector Christian Cauchi, who was assisted by prosecutors Darlene Grima and Danica Vella from the Office of the Attorney General, also requested the court issue a protection order in favour of the victim.

When the arraignment was due to start, at 12:30pm, Manhasseri’s court-appointed legal aid lawyer Daniel Attard informed the court that his client was telling him that there was a problem with the interpreter, as besides broken English, the accused only spoke Malayaam, and not Hindi, the language spoken by the court-appointed interpreter.

“He does not have effective interpretation in this case,” submitted the lawyer.

Magistrate Caruana asked the Hindi interpreter what the accused was telling her. She replied that the man spoke Malayaam and was “barely able to communicate” with her. 

Grima apologised for the situation, telling the court that she had not been aware of the fact that there were 22 official languages in India.  The magistrate said that the issue had to be solved.

The accused interjected, saying that he had no objection to the proceedings continuing in English with the Hindi interpreter filling in the gaps in his understanding.

Court asked the accused in English whether he understood other Indian languages, to which the accused replied - also in English - that he did not, explaining that he spoke English but in stressful situations he tended to panic and this could affect his understanding.

The arraignment was adjourned to allow the prosecution to find an interpreter for the Malayaam language.

The sitting resumed at 2:30pm with two interpreters, one from Maltese to English and another from English to Malayaam being sworn in to translate what was going on, so that the accused would be able to follow the proceedings.

Inspector Cauchi explained what had led to the man’s arrest. Yesterday, a British tourist who was on holiday in Malta and who had been staying at the hotel had filed a report at the police station. She told the officers there that she had gone for an evening massage at the hotel’s spa on 29 October, which she had booked in advance.

The woman had sat down in the massage room and the accused, who was the masseur, had adjusted her towel to allow her to lie down on the massage bench. He had then massaged her neck, shoulders and face.

The massage had strayed into sexual territory when the accused instructed the woman to turn face up and proceeded to touch her breasts and pinch her nipples. “The victim said she felt uncomfortable but had said nothing at the time, still thinking it was a professional massage,” explained the inspector.

But when the masseur asked her to take off her underwear, the woman refused. The inspector told the court that the man had pulled the woman’s panties off anyway, touching her private parts, while claiming that it was part of a “special massage.”  After the victim repeatedly objected to this, he had moved his hands up to massage her neck again.

The woman, however, told him to stop the session and soon afterwards, had filed a complaint with the hotel’s manager and the police.

After receiving the woman's report at the police station, officers had established the name of the masseur in question, after which an arrest warrant was issued by the duty magistrate. The man was arrested at a flat which he shared with other Indian nationals and taken into custody.

The arrest was declared valid by the court.

After the charges were duly confirmed on oath by the inspector, the court proceeded to uphold an application by which the victim asked for permission to testify via video conferencing should it be required.

Manhasseri, who told the court that he was a spa trainer, asked to speak to his lawyer again when it was time for him to enter a plea. The court granted him a few minutes to do so, after which he entered a guilty plea to the solitary charge against him. 

Magistrate Caruana informed the man that the law entitled him to the opportunity to reconsider his admission of guilt. The arraignment was suspended for a few minutes for him to do so. Manhasseri confirmed his guilty plea when the sitting reconvened.

At this point Manhasseri’s lawyer asked to be allowed to approach the magistrate’s bench, together with the prosecution to discuss something privately. After several minutes of discussion, Attard returned to his client, speaking to him very quietly.

The lawyer then returned to the huddle with the court.

For the third time the accused was asked what he was pleading. The answer came back unchanged. “Guilty”, he said.

In her submissions on punishment, Grima acknowledged that the crime was punishable by imprisonment for a period of between four and seven years, but informed the court that the AG would not be insisting on imprisonment. The Probation Act provided a fitting punishment in the circumstances, said the lawyer. Inspector Cauchi seconded the prosecutor’s submissions.

Attard, for the defence, submitted that there “was no case for imprisonment here,” also asking the court to consider imposing a probation order.

After deliberating for a few minutes, the court ordered the man in the dock to stand up for sentencing. In view of Manhasseri’s admission of guilt, the court was finding him guilty of the charge, said the magistrate.

Having taken into account the circumstances of this case and after seeing the accused’s criminal record, as well as in view of the early guilty plea, the magistrate said he felt that a prison sentence would not be ideal in the circumstances. 

The court placed the man under a probation order for two years. “This is not a get out of jail free card,” warned the magistrate. “If within the next two years you  commit another crime, the court will reopen this case for punishment as well as award punishment for the second crime.”

The court dictated a note encouraging the probation officer to assess whether the man required treatment for any medical, psychological or social problems.

A two-year restraining order in favour of the victim was also imposed, with the court explaining that if Manhasseri attempted to contact or approach the victim in any way over the next two years, in doing so he would be committing another offence, which was punishable by imprisonment for up to two years or a fine of €7,000.