Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo: The Story Behind the Story
An American website has published background information relating to the 'Trial, Guilty Verdict and Public Vilification' of the erstwhile International Director of the Barnabas Fund relief and support agency.
Ed note: The following article relates to the recent resignation of Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo as International Director of Barnabas Fund. See related article.
(VirtueOnline: reprinted with permission)
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo: The Story Behind the Story, the Trial, Guilty Verdict and Public Vilification
"Was an injustice committed?"
On February 23rd 2015 an all-white jury of 10 women and two men found Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, a British Asian and the International Director of Barnabas Fund, guilty of a single count of sexual assault and two counts of witness intimidation.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo
Sookhdeo served as the International Director of Barnabas Aid International--a Christian organization and umbrella group including the U.K.-based Barnabas Fund and the U.S.-based Barnabas Aid.
The group aids persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries around the world. The organization has assisted hundreds of thousands of Christians in dire situations, especially in Muslim-majority countries. The ministry was started in 1993. Dr. Sookhdeo is a Christian convert from Islam.
The jury brought in a unanimous verdict on the witness intimidation charges (considered the more serious complaint), but the single sexual assault charge found the jury divided with a 10 to 2 verdict reached over a two-day period.
Judge Peter Blair QC tried to obtain a unanimous verdict but failed. The judge then gave the jury permission to get a majority verdict. Had there been a 9 to 3 decision the case would have had to be retried.
The judge apparently thought so little of the guilty verdict that he sentenced the BAI leader to three months community service in the form of a curfew. Sookhdeo paid no fine and was not entered on the sex offenders register. He paid prosecution costs of $4,500.00 and a $100.00 victim surcharge fee.
Now, it used to be that a person was innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, in the UK, when it comes to crimes related to sex, it seems to be the reverse: one is effectively presumed to be guilty and therefore one must prove one's innocence. From the get go the presumption of guilt is overwhelming.
I saw this at the trial of Dr. Sookhdeo in Swindon, England earlier this year and was present in the courtroom throughout the ordeal. The all-white jury heard an emotionally charged white woman claim she had been "sexually assaulted," with witnesses declaiming from both sides. But the side that wrapped itself in feelings, emotion, and alleged pain for the complainant got the jury's attention, the real facts be damned.
Of the twelve complaints made against Sookhdeo by the complainant to her employers, only two reached the court, and they were combined as a single charge.
Regarding sexual touch, colleagues at the Barnabas Fund headquarters knew her as a serial full body hugger, which was confirmed by board chairman Albrecht Hauser in his court statement. Others witnessed this behavior, as well. The short length of her skirts (especially in light of her age) was also the talk and derision of some staff members. Sookhdeo is, by temperament, not a hugger.
At no time in the 12 complaints was intercourse (attempted or otherwise) or any attempt to remove clothing discussed. The charges were made about incidents alleged to have happened on a Friday afternoon in a busy office corridor where visitors and interruptions were common.
The charge of witness intimidation by two employees who were to be prosecution witnesses also failed to hold up under scrutiny.
The two female staff persons claimed that Sookhdeo intimidated them at a staff meeting following the internal investigation. This did not corroborate with any of the 12 complaints apart from safeguarding the open door policy and modesty dress code which Sookhdeo introduced. Sookhdeo mentioned the pain he and his wife had endured since the accusations had been made..
At the trial, Barnabas Fund board chairman (the Rev.) Albrecht Hauser, 77, Canon of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg (Ret.) and a former missionary to Afghanistan, told the court that he had urged a very reluctant Sookhdeo to attend and speak to the staff at the meeting. Dr. Rod Westrop, COO co-chaired the meeting with Hauser.
"We all as a board felt it important that Patrick be there and have the opportunity to say something, as we had reinstated him (he came back from his voluntary sabbatical). None of us had the impression he intimidated anyone. Patrick did share the ordeal he had gone through and said that this could happen to anybody in any organization.
"As an outsider I never thought that there could be any witness intimidation, as I have no experience with such legal procedures. If I had been aware that there could be any such problem for Patrick addressing the staff, I would not have urged him," Hauser told VOL.
Hauser said that one of the women, Kayleigh Ghiot, who reported Patrick to the police for intimidation, was actually working from home. The other woman, Kathryn Wakeling, had been told by Westrop that she should not attend the meeting. Some 60 people were present.
The complainant's friend Hollie-Anne Gale, staff member, secretly recorded the meeting and took it later to the police.
Sookhdeo, who thought neither witness would be present, did not notice them in the over-crowded room as he was so embarrassed at having to speak. He only occasionally surveyed the audience, mainly keeping his eyes on the ground.
Wakeling, in her court testimony, made a number of unfounded accusations, including that Sookhdeo himself had called the meeting in order to intimidate her and stop her from testifying in open court. She also claimed she would lose her job if she did not attend the meeting. However, she had been advised by a senior staff member not to attend the meeting, and earlier on March 7 she had made it known that she was going to resign shortly after her July 12 wedding (later postponed to October 11) and move to Wales. These accusations were only the most damning (for Sookhdeo and his case) of a whole range of examples in which Wakeling read sinister meanings into perfectly ordinary events, which she included in her testimony.
Did she tell the truth under oath?
When the charges first came to light, an internal investigation (grievance panel) that included external human resources was set up to investigate the charges. (VOL is respecting British law by not mentioning the complainant's name even though we could do so because this story is being released in the US.)
The Rev. Ian McNaughton, chair of the appeal panel, stated the panel's finding that the "touching of your breast was accidental and we do not believe this to be deliberate sexual harassment."
The panel did uphold the "grievance" regarding the discussion about a modesty dress code "which you found distressing" as well as a safe-guarding "open/closed" door policy, both of which were introduced by Sookhdeo. (The dress code was a response to the short skirts worn not only by the complainant but also by others, including Ghiot, who exacerbated the modesty problem by sitting at her desk on a huge exercise ball instead of a chair.)
Earlier, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, a U.S. Anglican bishop and chair of the original investigation panel, had stated in the findings of his panel that the complainant's allegations lacked "corroborative evidence," but he recognized that the dress code for female staff in the office "had made you feel uncomfortable, because of its detailed nature." Furthermore, there were implied levels of trust in the "open and closed" door policies instigated by Dr. Sookhdeo.
The letter acknowledged "different versions" of the sexual allegations but also acknowledged that "when you and Patrick hugged ... his hand brushed your breast." Sookhdeo had admitted to the accidental touching from the beginning.
A series of alleged intimidating phone calls made by Sookhdeo to the complainant do not bear out.
The story is this. Dr. Sookhdeo, his wife and Barnabas Fund's projects director were set to go to Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, departing two days after the incident in the office. The schedule included a land journey from Tbilisi to Yerevan over remote and snowy mountains.
The complainant alleged that Sookhdeo tried to intimidate and harass her with a series of phone calls over the weekend. She claimed that she and Sookhdeo did not normally communicate out of office hours. A review of her mobile phone records show that it was not at all unusual for the two to be in touch with each other outside of office hours, and this weekend's subject matter was typical. Sookhdeo had merely wanted to ask her, at the suggestion of the projects director, Caroline Kerslake, to bring forward the departure time of the land journey by a few hours so that they could reach the safety of Yerevan before dark.
The complainant claims that the calls were designed to intimidate her, but the internal investigation did not uphold her statements. These phone calls were one of the reasons Sookhdeo was later arrested at his workplace.
"As a panel, we are satisfied that the phone calls you received over the weekend of 15/16th of February, some of which were initiated by Caroline (Projects Director), were about travel arrangements rather than being directly related to the grievance," stated Minns.
VOL has information concerning a number of serious inconsistencies between what complainant told the police and her husband and what she wrote in a grievance statement. This information was given to an internal investigation panel and submitted for an Employment Tribunal.
The complainant's five different accounts of what happened show many and surprising inconsistences as well as contrary testimony.
The complainant told the police that Sookhdeo looked at her chest (and that she put a hairclip on her clothing to conceal her breasts), but she did not tell this to any of the other four groups, including her husband. Why?
She shared the information regarding the closed office door with all the parties except the Employment tribunal. Why?
She told the police about the comments regarding her short skirts but withheld this information from her husband and the employment tribunal. Why?
She told only the police and her husband about a conversation regarding sexual harassment cases in the media, but she did not mention this to any of the other three agencies.
Sookhdeo's question "what if you accused me...[of in appropriate behavior]?" was reported by the complainant to the police but not to her husband.
She also never told her husband about Sookhdeo's alleged placement of his hands on her inner thigh (the most serious of her complaints). She gave different accounts of her breasts being stroked to the police and later to her husband. Inconsistencies abound. She never mentioned this central issue at the internal investigation meeting. An important oversight.
She never mentioned her very serious complaint regarding Sookhdeo's alleged "I want to touch you" and "menstrual bleeding" statements to the police, her husband, or the internal investigation panel. Why not?
Her allegation of a previous touching of the inner thigh some two weeks earlier was told only to the internal investigation panel and not to any of the other four parties.
Of the more than 18 complaints made, 12 of the most serious charges were never discussed by the complainant with her husband.
The question is why? If her husband was so concerned for his wife's well-being, why did he not discuss these alleged threats to her sexual safety?
The most serious inconsistency in court took place in the cross examination of the complainant's husband, who said he worked from his home. His wife had been on sick leave from Barnabas Fund for four consecutive weeks, but he apparently was unaware of this important detail. When he was asked by counsel whether his wife was at home during that period, he said no. If this was indeed the case, where was she for that period? Her total sick leave in the year before the allegations was 45 working days. Where was she, and why didn't her husband know where she was?
I recall the startled buzz in the court at the time, yet Sookhdeo's barrister failed to pursue this line of questioning.
A timeline compiled by Barnabas Fund internal investigation staff, derived from CCTV, electronic door pass records, and email records, clearly shows that Sookhdeo was not in his office at the time when the complainant alleged that the main incident on February 14th happened.
The complainant told the court that she was going after Sookhdeo for the sake of her own personal integrity and not for money. When she was asked if she sought any compensation, she gave a flat "no."
However, in a Claim Form she had already submitted to the Employment Tribunal out of Bristol, obtained by VOL, four options were outlined, including unfair dismissal and the desire to regain one's previous job, unfair dismissal with the intention of obtaining another job with the same employer, compensation only, and discrimination. The complainant had only ticked the box marked COMPENSATION ONLY. She lied to the court.
This court case is so full of holes it defies the imagination. British juries have always claimed to be fair and impartial, but of late that is disappearing in a culture of victimhood and hurt feelings, and, in this case, half-truths, lies and falsehoods. There is also more than a hint of racism here. People are unwittingly racist because they believe in the infallibility of the jury system. An all-white jury convicted an Asian. It was an easy call.
Furthermore, there was no corroborative evidence. It was strictly he said/she said. In Scottish law, corroboration is a must. Any evidence adduced must be backed up by at least one other source. Not so in England.
A truly remarkable case illustrating this occurred in England recently when Bishop George Bell, the former Bishop of Chichester who has been dead for 57 years, was accused of abusing a child during the 1940s and 1950s. The complaint was not passed on to police until a second complaint was made in 2013 to the office of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, eighteen years after the first complaint and fifty-five years after Bell's death. No witnesses, no corroboration. The Church paid compensation in September 2015, and Martin Warner, the current bishop of Chichester, issued a formal apology to the alleged victim the following month.
A Church of England blogger said, "Horrible, totalitarian things are happening. George Bell House in Chichester has been renamed 4 Canon Lane, and a black bin-liner has been taped over the brass plaque to hide its previous name. The Bishop Luffa School in Chichester has decided to rename its own Bell House, and Eastbourne's Bishop Bell School looks set to follow suit. He is being unpersoned and expunged from all memory. For those who knew him, it is disquieting. For everyone who cares about justice and due process, it is time to stand up for the presumption of innocence, for without it, we've all had it."
Dr. Sookhdeo's wife Rosemary, to whom he has been married for over 45 years and who has already been distressed by the seductive behavior of the complainant towards her husband, also suffered with her husband, who has been convicted of a crime he did not commit. She knew that the allegations were false as she was present with her husband at the precise time the complainant claimed one of the incidents occurred. Furthermore, Sookhdeo had had an invasive procedure the previous day to treat his bladder cancer. He was also suffering from male cystitis and on that day was in pain and distress and was being cared for by his wife. He was in no physical shape to consider sexual touching.
Sadly, there have been a number of cases where women have been abused and perpetrators have rightly been punished.
But has the pendulum swung so far in favor of emotion and hurt feelings that guilt is presumed with little research evidence? In this case, the evidence against Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo does not bear out a guilty verdict.
1. The Barnabas Fund website states:
"Many Barnabas Fund supporters have requested information on a number of challenges that have faced the charity and Dr Sookhdeo in recent months. The international Barnabas trustees have now written a document covering not only recent challenges but also the historical context. [' Hard Pressed on Every Side: Challenges Faced by Barnabas Fund and Patrick Sookhdeo' - Ed.]
A printed version of this document is also available in booklet form. Please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like a copy mailed to you. The online version will be periodically updated, for example with the recent news that Dr Patrick Sookhdeo has now re-started his legal appeal against conviction. The online version will include relevant supporting documents not found in the printed version."
Details for electronic funds transfer
2. As Dr. Sookhdeo has resigned his position with Barnabas Fund the Fund is no longer able to assist him financially. Accordingly for the purpose of channelling support to Dr. Sookhdeo in the current situation and during the pending appeal, a mechanism has been set up with the 'Reconciliation Trust'.
Account name: Reconciliation Trust Account number: 90712809
Sort Code: 20-84-58
Ref: Patrick Sookhdeo
Monies can be sent via electronic funds transfer or
by cheque made payable to 'Reconciliation Trust' and sent to:
9 Priory Row,
Coventry CV1 5EX
3. Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo speaking on the persecution of Christians in Syria