June 23, 2014 – 4:03PM
A man who told one of five women he sexually assaulted on a regional train service to ‘‘have a nice life’’ must spend at least 10 months in jail.
County Court judge Gerard Mullaly, in imposing a head sentence of 21 months on Ajay Chopra, said stern punishment awaited men who put their own “perverse sexual pleasure” above the rights of women.
“The sexual assault of fellow female passengers on public transport is shameful and dishonourable,” judge Mullaly said on Monday.
“Decent men do not do this.”
Chopra, of Bendigo, either assaulted the women, or tried to, when he took their hands claiming to be a palm reader and either put a woman’s hand on his crotch, or put his hand on or near their crotch, or both.
Prosecutor Neill Hutton said one of the victims felt Chopra’s erect penis under her hand and that the offender also put his hand up the woman’s dress.
“This continued until the offender got off the train at Bendigo. He turned (to the victim) and said ‘Have a nice have a nice life’, as he did so,” Mr Hutton said.
The court heard Chopra’s offending escalated in seriousness and that he had initially denied the charges, but changed his plea to guilty to “save face” with his family.
Defence counsel Mark Hird said a psychological assessment found Chopra “doesn’t want to face up to (the offending) rather than enter a genuine plea of guilty”.
Judge Mullaly said Chopra’s “shameful and concerning behaviour” had had a profound and lasting impact on his victims, significantly because of the delay in between the offending and sentencing.
The court was told one victim had suffered a severe blow to her self-confidence and was anxious, distrustful and felt constantly disappointed with herself.
Another, the judge said, had fought “a losing battle” against depression in the years since she was assaulted and felt she had lost two-and-a-half years of her life.
Judge Mullaly said the delay between offending and sentencing had “compounded” the problems of victims and that the public was entitled to an explanation.
He said the Bendigo court complex had only one court room equipped for trials by jury, and as a result, Chopra’s case was delayed until he pleaded guilty because of a backlog of cases.
Judge Mullaly said cities of a similar size to Bendigo had addressed shortages of adequate court rooms to hear jury trials.
“Bendigo stands apart and its citizens must wait too long to have cases heard,” he said.
Judge Mullaly said Chopra’s crimes also had a “corrosive” effect on the community because they added “to the unfortunate sense of fear that women have, that public transport is not safe”.
Chopra, who was supported in court by his wife, will have his name put on the sex offenders registry for life.
Man posing as palm reader jailed for sexually assaulting women on V/Line trains
A Bendigo man has been jailed for 21 months for sexually assaulting young women on V-Line trains while posing as a palm reader.
Ajay Chopra, 41, pleaded guilty to five charges over a series of sex assaults on trains between Bendigo and Melbourne in 2011.
The court heard Chopra would pretend to be a palm reader before grabbing the women’s hands and assaulting them.
His youngest victim was 18 years old.
“All of this was a ruse, and what you were attempting to do was either to put their hand in your crotch area or put your hand in their crotch area,” Judge Gerard Mullaly said.
Prosecutor Neil Hutton said that once Chopra had hold of a woman’s hands he would resist any efforts by them to pull away.
In one case, he held his hand under a woman’s dress; in another, he held his victim’s hand against himself.
“She could feel the man’s erect penis on the back of her hand,” Mr Hutton said.
“This activity happened for most of the trip to Bendigo, where he got off the train.
“He turned and said, ‘have a nice life’, as he did so.”
Victims left fearful of using public transport
The court was also told his victims were traumatised by the assaults and felt fearful travelling on public transport, particularly with men.
“Your offending was repetitive, escalating and persistent,” Judge Mullaly said.
“The sexual assault of fellow female passengers is shameful, dishonourable conduct. Decent men do not act like this.”
The sexual assault of fellow female passengers is shameful, dishonourable conduct. Decent men do not act like this.Judge Gerard Mullaly
The court heard Chopra moved from India with his wife to Bendigo in 2011 and had shown no insight into, nor remorse for, his crimes, instead focusing on saving face.
Judge Mullaly said he had chosen vulnerable young victims and the nature of his offending had wider ramifications for the community.
“The fact they were conducted on public transport adds to the unfortunate sense of fear that women have that public transport is not safe.
“This fear is corrosive and impacts on women’s rights to go about their lives freely.”
Chopra was placed on the sex offenders register for life and will be eligible for parole in 10 months.
Poor court facilities prolonged suffering of victims: judge
Judge Mullaly also said the delay in the matter being resolved in the courts had prolonged the suffering for Chopra’s victims.
He added that Bendigo residents were being denied proper justice because of a lack of court facilities.
He said the public deserved to know why crimes committed in 2011 had taken so long to pass through the courts.
The case began in Bendigo but had to be moved to Melbourne because there was no suitable courtroom.
“Court facilities in Bendigo are and have been for too long inadequate to uphold the criminal justice system,” Judge Mullaly said.
Judge Mullaly said its court facilities compared badly with other regional cities in Victoria of the same size.
“It stands apart.
“It’s citizens must wait too long to have their cases heard…we must urgently investigate all possibilities to open up another courtroom in Bendigo.
“This case must prompt a re-doubling of efforts.”