Ethics professor groped sleeping woman sat next to him on flight

Aberdeen International Airport new sign
Amsterdam flight: Woman was sexually assaulted on plane headed for Aberdeen.Alan Jenkins

An ethics professor has been put on the sex offenders register after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman on a plane.

Bernd Wannenwetsch, who groped a sleeping woman on a flight from Amsterdam to Aberdeen, claimed he thought her closed eyes showed she was enjoying his advances.

The Oxford University graduate was found guilty on Monday of sexually assaulting the woman by touching her on the breast and thigh as he gazed out of a plane window.

Sheriff Graham Buchanan described it as a "squalid" incident after finding the professor, who is also an ordained minister, guilty at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

He said: "The accused concocted an elaborate fantasy. He has convinced himself now that this is what has happened.

"It's a petty and squalid incident where the accused took advantage for his his own sexual gratification."

Wannenwetsch went on trial facing a charge of sexual assault earlier this year and the case was continued until Monday.

During the hearing Wannenwetsch gave evidence admitting he committed a "moral wrong" by touching the woman on the plane but he denied sexually assaulting her.

The professor claimed it was a consensual act that he has since regretted "every day".

Giving evidence, the professor said his alleged victim had consented by giving visual signs after the pair first made accidental contact while admiring the view over Holland.

He said: "It happened after take off when I leaned across to get to see out of the window.

"First it was accidental — maybe we touched arms, very slight contact with her chest area.

"She encouraged me to keep looking out. The physical contact became more perceptible."

Wannenwetsch claimed that the woman, who was sitting in the window seat, closed her eyes in response to his touch.

He said: "I asked myself how to read these signs. There was clearly enough room for her to move to the window.

"I asked myself am I perhaps misinterpreting her body language. The conclusion was clearly that she consented and was enjoying the closeness.

"After she closed her eyes I took it as an affirmative indication to stay close and maintain the physical contact."

The court heard that his elbow was touching the woman's breast and he put his hand on her thigh.

When he later put his hand on her again she picked up her handbag and phone and moved — ending the contact between them.

When the case first called in June, the woman spoke of her horror after waking up mid-flight to find herself being groped.

She said she was "speechless" when "a couple of minutes after I woke up he asked me if I enjoyed it".

The court heard that she broke down in tears after her boyfriend picked her up from the airport.

During cross examination on Monday fiscal depute Garry Sturrock asked the 53-year-old, if he thought it was strange that a girl half his age would want to be touched by him.

Wannenwetsch said: "No, I didn't find it strange. I don't think I can answer for her. Why she sent out signals in my direction I do not know.

"I can't read her mind. This remains the greatest mystery to me to this day."

During closing submissions Mr Sturrock said that the accused made no denial that there was touching and it was a matter of consent.

He said that as the woman testified that she was asleep, as did another passenger, then there was no possible way she could have given consent to the touching.

The court heard that the woman, who is a seasoned traveller, now had trouble sleeping and would not sit next to single men on flights.

Defence agent David Moggach attempted to attack the credibility of the woman, who appeared as a witness when the case first called.

He said it was "significant" that she had not reported the matter to the police straight away.

However Sheriff Buchanan said the chair of theological ethics at Aberdeen University lacked any credibility when giving his evidence — citing huge differences between the Crown's narrative and the defence's evidence.

The sheriff deferred sentence for the preparation of reports and put Wannenwetsch on the sex offenders register in the interim. The professor, who is also president of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics UK, will be sentenced next month.

A spokesman for the University of Aberdeen said: "The University has been aware of this case and will invoke internal procedures to address the verdict."

Related articles

People who read this story also read