Former housing boss caught fondling himself in luxury spa claimed his 'shorts got snagged' as he attempted to 'help an elderly woman'
A former CEO of a housing association who performed a sex act on himself in a busy hotel spa has avoided a prison sentence.
Married father-of-two Dermot Gerard Leonard (55) was given two years' probation and 100 hours' unpaid work by Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Piers Grant, who told him he was "very close" to be being jailed.
The judge also described the incident as "sordid and unpleasant and a matter for which you should be utterly ashamed", adding: "No woman should be exposed to this type of behaviour."
Four days before his trial was due to start last month, Leonard, from Ailesbury Crescent in south Belfast, confessed to a single count of outraging public decency by performing a sex act on himself on January 26 last year.
Laura Ievers, prosecuting, told the court a woman in her twenties was using the spa at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle when she saw the defendant in the sauna performing a sex act with his shorts pulled down. He continued while staring at the woman, who then moved away.
After the police were called, it emerged that earlier the same day Leonard approached a middle-aged woman and made comments she deemed offensive, although there was no suggestion of any physical approach.
In two police interviews, Leonard denied doing anything wrong. He claimed he was lying down but jumped up when he saw an elderly woman struggling with a door, snagging his shorts in the process. He added that he was not performing a sex act, but rather "putting his hands to his shorts to adjust himself".
Ms Ievers told the court that by pleading guilty, Leonard had abandoned those claims. She also revealed that he had a previous conviction for indecent assault from 20 years ago, relating to an indecent in which he inappropriately touched a colleague he was kissing on a train.
Defence QC Eugene Grant said his client had resigned from his job, now relied on benefits and his civil servant wife and that his reputation was "finished".
He also told the court that Leonard, who has been barred from the Slieve Donard Hotel and every other hotel in the Hastings chain, felt "deep shame" over his actions.
As well as probation and unpaid work, Judge Grant also imposed a £750 compensation order, allowing Leonard six months to pay. He warned him that if he failed to pay or breached any terms of the order, "you certainly will not get the clemency of the court... if you come back before me you will be sentenced to a significant period of custody".