VETERAN comedian Sylvester "Sil" Fox has been acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman who had claimed he groped her while they had a selfie photograph taken at a Dublin pub.
Mr Fox walked free from court today after Judge Paula Murphy dismissed the charge, ruling that there was insufficient evidence against him and he had no case to answer.
The judge said there were inconsistencies between the woman's evidence and CCTV footage that had been shown.
Outside court, Mr Fox said he had been through "months of hell" but was delighted to have been "completely exonerated" and hoped his reputation would be restored in time.
Mr Fox (87), with an address at Wellington Lawn, Templeogue pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting the woman at a bar in the south city centre on December 17, 2018.
The non-jury trial took place at Dublin District Court and the prosecution's case concluded in February. The middle aged complainant had alleged Mr Fox assaulted her after agreeing to her request for a selfie while she was on a Christmas night out with friends.
The judge delivered her ruling today after hearing legal submissions from the defence and prosecution, and having re-watched the video evidence.
She said the woman had given evidence that Mr Fox had touched her with his left hand while the photo was being taken and the alleged assault had lasted around 30 seconds.
Judge Murphy said the complainant had accepted on viewing the CCTV that Mr Fox's hand was on the table for the entire time the photograph was taken.
His hand was not visible for only three seconds after the photo was taken, the judge said.
The woman was "unable to explain" this inconsistency.
"In the footage, there is no indication that something untoward occurred," Judge Murphy said. "There is no indication the complainant was upset or distressed."
In addition, when the woman was seen to beckon Mr Fox over to her table for the selfie the encounter "appears to be pleasant and convivial". It appeared to have been friendly and the woman appeared to have been smiling, the judge said.
Afterwards, the footage showed the woman touching Mr Fox in a "good-natured and pleasant gesture" and he was seen to leave at a "leisurely pace", and not "skulking away" as described by the complainant.
Judge Murphy said the court was impressed with the complainant's testimony but having carefully considered it along with the objective CCTV evidence and the law, she concluded that if it had been a jury trial "a jury properly directed could not convict on the evidence before the court."
The complainant did not react as the judge delivered her ruling. Mr Fox had been excused from attending the hearing.
However, Mr Fox - a regular contributor to Liveline's Funny Friday in recent years - spoke on the steps of the Criminal Courts of Justice shortly afterwards.
"I am delighted that I have been completely exonerated of all charges by the court today," Mr Fox said, flanked by his son Cyril and solicitor Michael French.
"This case should never have been taken. Nothing untoward or inappropriate ever happened as the CCTV coverage made crystal clear. I was asked to participate in a photo, which I did, and I walked away five seconds later."
"I strongly believe that the DPP has some serious questions to answer as to why they took this case," he said.
"I have been through months of hell ever since this case was first publicised. My health, physically and mentally, has deteriorated and I have endured countless nights with little or no sleep. At 87 years of age I found it very difficult to cope with all this stress," Mr Fox continued.
"I have been in show business for 60 years without a blemish until this accusation surfaced. It has unfairly tarnished my reputation and good name. In the space of 48 hours after it hit the news last July, every show or concert I was booked for was cancelled. I have not worked a day since. I am glad it is finally over and I have been found completely innocent. I hope my reputation will be restored in time. I am looking forward to getting back to work. I love the stage and I love entertaining people."
Mr Fox thanked his wife, son, nieces, nephews, Mr French and barrister Emer Ni Chuagain "and all my friends in show business and elsewhere who supported me throughout this ordeal."
During the trial, the complainant said Mr Fox was a performer popular with her parents’ generation and she wanted a photo with him to show her father. She tapped him on his side and he agreed.
She gave her phone to her friend to set up the picture as Mr Fox turned and asked if they were ready. She told him she liked a broach of a clown he had on the lapel of his jacket.
She remained seated as he leaned over. She alleged he put his right hand on the back of her chair and his left hand in front as he stood to her side.
The woman claimed that as her friend said “smile”, “Mr Fox proceeded to put his hand on to my lap, on to my groin and he tickled my vagina, and doing so he said, ‘You will always remember where this picture was taken’.”
She alleged when she confronted him he said “You should be so lucky” he told her “this is ridiculous, this is stupid”.
The court heard Mr Fox told gardai the woman was a liar and trying to “ruin my name.”