Royal Navy sailor cleared of sexual assault by court martial

A Royal Navy sailor has been cleared of sexually assaulting a female colleague at a party on a warship after claiming the ‘humiliated’ woman fabricated the allegations when she was caught stealing his bottle of wine.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 5:04 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 7:12 pm
HMS Defender. Picture: Ministry of Defence

Leading Engineering Technician Danny Holmes was accused of touching his fellow sailor's bottom on two separate occasions during a celebratory evening on HMS Defender.

The court martial heard the 31-year-old 'couldn't keep his hands to himself' during the event on the Type 45 destroyer, which had been deployed to the Gulf, and twice 'stroked' the woman's buttocks.

But LET Holmes told a court martial he didn't touch his colleague at all - and instead claimed she had made up the allegations after being found to have stolen his bottle of wine.

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He said the young woman became ‘annoyed’ after admitting taking his drink, having initially denied it.

Later on in the evening he attempted to resolve the situation with the ‘very drunk’ woman, but was instead accused of groping her bottom.

Other witnesses said it seemed as though she were ‘taking her anger out’ on LET Holmes, who has served in the navy for 13 years.

It was also said that the pair had hardly met before the incidents.

LET Holmes, who was serving as a weapons engineer on the Portsmouth-based ship, was acquitted of two counts of sexual assault by touching.

The trial, at Bulford Military Court, Wilts, had heard HMS Defender's crew were celebrating that evening and after enjoying a meal, the female sailor entered a mess below deck where she was claimed she was touched for the first time.

She told the court: "I came through a doorway into the mess... it was quite busy - there was music playing and everyone was chatting.

‘LET Holmes was stood to the right as I walked through the doorway. We had a generic conversation that lasted a minute, if that.

‘I continued [into the mess] and felt a hand on my right buttock. It wasn't a grab, but it was not like someone was brushing past, either.

‘I immediately confronted him - he was the only person that was close to me - and said, 'You just touched me on the bum, what are you doing?'

‘I remember him laughing as if it was ridiculous that I would confront him with something like that.

‘[About two hours later] I was stood at the bar. LET Holmes had approached me not long before, and said something along the lines of, 'We friends? We good?'

‘I was past it, so I said, 'Yes. Fine, whatever.'

‘There were about four people around the bar having a chat. LET Holmes was walking around behind me and did the same as he did before.

‘It was not the back of his hand, it was definitely an open palm. [This one] was a brush, because he was moving and I was standing still.

‘I said, "You touched me again”, and he reacted similarly... he denied it and laughed at me.’

But LET Holmes instead argued she became so embarrassed after being caught with his drink that she fabricated the allegations.

He told the court: ‘I only knew [the alleged victim] as another member of the ship's company; we had no friendship or relationship.

‘I had a couple of tinnies and bought a bottle of wine from the bar. I put it in the middle mess on the way to the toilet, and when I came back it wasn't there.

‘I saw [the alleged victim] was drinking it... She denied it was my bottle and said she had bought it herself.

‘When I pointed out she couldn't have just bought it because half had already been drunk, she sort of admitted it.

‘She was annoyed.’

LET Holmes told the court he later tried to resolve the issue with his colleague, but got no answer to his shouts of her name.

He said he later saw her get 'upset' but 'didn't know' what about, and was told by a colleague of the allegations made against him when he returned to his cabin.

LET Holmes added: ‘From what [my cabin mate] told me, she was saying I had touched her. I was surprised and wasn't sure what to make of all of it.

‘There was no point in the evening when I touched her bottom. It didn't happen.’

Another crew member told the court he had witnessed the argument over the bottle of wine.

LET James Bale said: ‘[LET Holmes] was asking her about [the wine] and she was getting very defensive... it grew into a heated argument.

‘She [alleged victim] was drunk. She got pretty upset and started crying and being hysterical.

‘She initially denied taking the bottle, but after five or 10 minutes she admitted she did take the wine.

‘She got really upset and it seemed she was taking her anger out on LET Holmes. It was like she had been humiliated.’

Other witnesses told the court martial the woman was drunk to the point of 'hysterics'.

ET Aitken said: ‘She [the alleged victim] was slurring her words... her eyes were glazed over [and] she smelled strongly of alcohol and was swaying about when she was speaking to me.

‘At one stage she was not making any sense and I couldn't make out what she was saying.

‘She never actually said what had or had not happened.’

A board of military personnel deliberated for nearly two hours before finding LET Holmes not guilty of both charges.