Clergyman on trial for indecent assault

2:34 pm on 13 June 2016

A clergyman has gone on trial in the Wellington District Court, accused of indecently assaulting a young parishioner.

Verghese Souri, 51, is said to have touched the complainant's breasts before a Sunday service in May last year.

In her opening address, Crown prosecutor Catherine Gisler told the jury Mr Souri and the complainant were preparing for the service and the complainant had trouble pulling on a robe.

Ms Gisler said the defendant asked the complainant "why are they so big", referring to her breasts, and then touched them.

She said Mr Souri stopped touching the complainant when another person came in and while the complainant was shocked, she continued with her duties at the service.

After the service the defendant gave the complainant a very tight hug and asked could he spend a day with her, but she said no, the prosecutor said

The complainant did not tell her mother why she did not want to spend time with the clergyman, but some weeks later she told her mother what had happened, she said.

The mother confronted Mr Souri, and police were alerted.

In an interview with police in July last year, Mr Souri initially denied knowing the complainant, touching her or asking her to spend the day with him.

Defence lawyer Noel Sainsbury said his client denied touching the complainant's breasts or commenting about them.

The fact an allegation was made did not mean it was true or correct and "occupation is irrelevant to guilt", he said.

His client's use of language would be an important aspect of the case and the jury would see a police interview with Mr Souri and hear the language he used in that, Mr Sainsbury said.

He told the jurors that would give them an idea of how Mr Souri expressed himself and would enable them to assess how likely it was that he said what it was claimed he said in conversation with the complainant.

The case is expected to run for three days, and is being heard by a jury of seven men and five women.