A man who posed as an Uber driver to commit indecent assaults on women is likely to be deported after being jailed for at least 18 months.
Sampath Sandaruwan Samaranayake would trawl areas around busy nightclubs, offering women rides for cash in September 2018.
After they entering his vehicle, he would indecently assault them, including forcing them to sexually touch him.
It took under three hours for a jury to find the 44-year-old guilty.
Indecent Assault Allegations
Samaranayake was alleged to have assaulted five women on different occasions. The prosecution said that he would touch, kiss and expose himself to the females.
He would also force the women to touch him as he drove them home.
The 44-year-old father of two denied the allegations and his indecent assault lawyers took the case to a District Court Trial.
He gave evidence from the witness box, where he acknowledged that Uber had rejected his application because his 2007 Land Rover was considered too old a vehicle.
Samaranayake was employed as a chef on a full-time basis. Despite this, he claimed that he was under financial pressure and needed a second job to pay to have skin folds removed when he started his own rideshare scheme.
He admitted that he would drive around the nightclub precinct in search of passengers waiting for Uber drivers. He would then offer to take them home if they paid him cash.
During the drives, the father of two would discuss his weight loss and how conscious he remained about the 25 to 30 kilos of skin folds left on his body.
According to Samaranayake, his passengers - including the women who had made allegations against him - enjoyed the conversations. He suggested that the victims tried to touch him to comfort him.
In her closing address, the Crown said that it was unlikely that five different women would offer 'sympathy' sex act to a total stranger.
"It's implausible that they would touch his body in any way unless he forced them,' she said as she urged the jury to reject the 44-year-old's evidence.
Mr Samaranayake's criminal lawyers said that their client had behavioural issues.
"He obviously had issues that caused him to act in a way that you might find a bit odd or bizarre, but that doesn't mean he is criminal," they said.
Ultimately, Sampath Sandaruwan Samaranayake was found guilty of 18 charges of sexual assault, indecent assault and deprivation of liberty.
Crown prosecutor Sandra Cupina made particular note of a prior conviction Samaranayake had for indecently assaulting a teenage girl in Victoria in 2010.
At the time he had been working as a delivery driver. The facts of that case set out that he had lured a 15-year-old girl into his van, told her he had a "small penis", and made the girl touch him while he masturbated.
The prosecutor submitted that 8 years later, his behaviour had escalated.
"He has deliberately prowled the Fortitude Valley area in the early hours of the mornings and late at night to target young women. He has deliberately exploited both the vulnerability and their humanity of young women in order to obtain sexual gratification," she said.
It was also submitted that by pleading 'not guilty', the defendant had not displayed any contrition or remorse for his victims, who were left traumatised.
"He seems to blame the women and, in fact, he feels unfairly treated, so his prospect of rehabilitation is limited."
Judge Tony Moynihan accepted these submissions and went on to say that it would have been a terrifying experience for the victims.
Victim speaks out
His Honour made particular mention of victim Jessica Small, who gave permission to be identified and spoke to the media. She was also in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
"I am just really relieved to have all this over and done with. It's finally over. It has definitely taught me to think a little before I blindly trust strangers. You would like to think everyone has best intentions but it is worth being safe - that's what I took away from this."
Ms Small met Samaranayake's four other victims at the start of the trial and said there was some comfort knowing she was not alone.
"It was a little bit of a relief to know I'm not the only one to experience this. It was kind of nice to have other women backing me up and telling the same story."
Samaranayake was sentenced to three years imprisonment and will be eligible to apply for parole after serving half his sentence.
He is expected to be deported to Sri Lanka after release.
Indecent Assault Charges
Under Section 61L of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), the definition of indecent assault is any act of touching that right minded persons would consider contrary to community standards.
In determining whether your actions were contrary to community standards, the court consider:
- Whether you did the touching for sexual gratification or arousal
- The area of the alleged victim's body that you touched;
- Anything else about touching or circumstances that might make it contrary to community standards.
Any sexual allegations (including sexual assault charges) are treated extremely seriously. The #metoo movement has engendered a significant change in the attitudes of Magistrates, Judges and juries. The particular emphasis on historical sexual allegations has made fighting such accusations more difficult than ever before.
Despite this, there have been a number of successful defences to these charges. You can read about some of those cases here. Call Astor Legal on (02) 7804 2823. Or, you can email email@example.com.
You can fight an indecent assault charge in two ways. Firstly, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt:
- you assaulted the alleged victim; and
- that assault was contrary to community standards; and
- the alleged victim did not give you consent; and
- you either:
a) knew that the alleged victim was not consenting; or
b) realised there was a possibility the alleged victim was not consenting but went ahead anyway; or
c) did not consider whether the alleged victim was consenting or not.
The following defences to indecent assault are available:
- Consent : You held an honest and reasonable belief that the alleged victim was giving consent.
- Identification : The Crown cannot establish that you were the perpetrator. We have a number of experts (such as DNA, fingerprint, CCTV and intoxication experts) who are able to cast doubt on identification in certain situations;
- There was a legitimate medical purpose for the touching;
- Accident : if any touching was purely an accident. An example of this could be bumping into another person on a train and accidentally touching their private parts;
- Automatism : This is where the touching was involuntary
- Duress: You were forced to commit the offence
- Necessity: the commission of the offence was necessary in the circumstances
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.