Neil Abbott put his head in his hands when he was told “all sentencing options are available” by magistrate Colin Bateman-Jones after he pleaded guilty to one charge of outraging public decency at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday.
The court heard how the entrepreneur from Romford was on a drunken night out with friends last year when he pushed through a queue and brazenly took a picture up a woman’s skirt.
A bystander informed the victim, who then alerted train station staff, and they apprehended the drunk defendant. Prosecutor Jennifer Fadaka said the victim was “repulsed” by Abbott’s actions and was left “extremely distressed, with a shaky voice”.
Ms Fadaka said: “It was clear he [Abbott] was drinking – he was unsteady on his feet. He said: “Can I not just delete the picture? I’ve learnt my lesson”.”
The prosecutor also said police had seized and discovered several other upskirting images on Abbott’s phone.
Defence counsel Claire McGrath said her client – who spent eight years working as a project manager in finance before setting up his own business – found upskirting photos “attractive”, but said there was no evidence he had taken them himself.
She said Abbott had shown genuine remorse for his actions. “Although we of course accept that it is a serious and unpleasant matter, it is a one-off, and there is no evidence that can be put forward that Mr Abbott has acted in this way before.
“I can honestly say that he has – in his own words to police – learned his lesson. This has had an extreme impact on him. It clearly was not targeted in any way. It was done when he was intoxicated, he was not acting like he usually would.
She added: “It was done in the most obvious fashion. There was no sense of sophistication or trying to hide what he did. He pushed into the queue [to take the picture] and was seen straight away.”
Ms McGrath said her client understood the impact the incident had on his victim, and said he was “very remorseful … I’m sure he will never be anywhere near the police station or the courts ever again".
Abbott, who was accompanied to court by his girlfriend of nearly three years, was released on bail ahead of his sentencing.
He was not charged with a specific upskirting offence because the offence occurred in August 2018 – eight months before a new law came into being.
Court security guards were later accused of giving preferential treatment to criminals after he was allowed to leave the building through a secret exit, avoiding photographers outside.
Abbott headed back inside the court when he saw members of the press standing outside. Latest guidance from HM Courts and Tribunal Service says security “should only allow defendants to use a side entrance if you have been specifically advised to, on security grounds, by the police or the judge”.
Sarah Green, co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, said: “The prosecution of a man for upskirting a stranger in a train station, following station staff action to apprehend the offender, is a welcome sign that this abusive behaviour is being taken seriously.
“The victim’s description of her distress and the impact of the crime is no surprise. But it appears the defendant was allowed to leave the court by a private exit, thus avoiding the media. This is contrary to the openness of our courts and should be investigated.”
An HM Courts and Tribunals Service spokesman said: “We are working with our security contractors to conduct an investigation into the incident.”
Additional reporting by PA