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Wednesday 11 December 2019

Jail for us pervert who shot 'upskirt' video of woman at pride parade

Pride revellers at the GPO last weekend
Pride revellers at the GPO last weekend

A "perverted" US businessman has been jailed for taking an "upskirt" video of a reveller at Dublin's Pride parade at the weekend.

Software engineer Russell Sykes (61) had come to Ireland on a business trip when he crouched down and used his phone to film up the woman's skirt, leaving her crying and humiliated.

Sykes ran off when she confronted him but gardai found an image on his phone when he returned to the parade later, after changing his T-shirt.

Judge Conal Gibbons said Sykes' explanation that he got "caught up in the atmosphere" was a "lame excuse" and jailed him for two months.

"The day is long gone when men can simply use, abuse and objectify women without their consent, for their own benefit or pleasure," Judge Gibbons said.

Sykes, a married father-of-two from North Augusta, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to engaging in offensive conduct of a sexual nature.

Garda Laura Burke told Dublin District Court that the victim was attending the parade on O'Connell Street on Saturday when Sykes was seen crouching down and using his phone camera under her skirt.

When she was alerted, the victim, who is Irish, confronted Sykes, but he ran off. She followed him but lost him in the crowd.

The accused returned to the area later and the woman recognised him. When Gda Burke asked to see his phone, she saw an image that had been taken up a skirt.

Sykes told the court he had got caught up in the atmosphere and it was a "stupid mistake", but the judge said this was "completely unacceptable" and made "no sense whatsoever".

"It strikes me as the most lame excuse I have heard in many a long year," he said.

Sexual

Defence solicitor Michael Hanahoe said: "On this particular occasion I couldn't help seeing some of the participants making their way back and there was a certain looseness of behaviour."

It was a celebration of sexual liberation and there were "sexual overtones", he said.

"I'll take your word for it, Mr Hanahoe, but I would have thought the word that is used is pride, and it shouldn't mean lewd or offensive behaviour," the judge said. "You see people dressing up in an exaggerated or eccentric fashion, that is evident in every parade, but that is a long distance from somebody doing what Mr Sykes did."

The idea of him using a mobile phone to take an "upskirting photo or video" was "simply beyond belief" and "hugely demeaning" to the victim, the judge added.

Mr Hanahoe said the woman was not identifiable on the snapshot or video and only clothing was visible.

A probation officer who interviewed Sykes said he had arrived in Dublin on Saturday and had two glasses of wine at the airport, then another at his city centre hotel. He went out and got "caught up in the festivities of the Pride march".

Sykes said he "saw a young woman he says was very attractive" and took a photo of her under her skirt". When she asked him if he had taken a video, he said no and left the area.

Sykes said he was a social drinker with no alcohol problem but was of slim build and it "clearly had an effect on him".

The judge said it was extraordinary that a previously law- abiding citizen would behave in such a manner at one of the most important events of the year on the streets of Dublin.

In her statement, the woman spoke of her humiliation and worry that a recording of her private person would be put up "all over the internet".

"I was distraught, I had a panic attack, I couldn't stop crying," she said.

She felt "violated, shocked and in a state of total distress".

The woman said she asked Sykes if he would let her have the video but he "took off".

The judge said it was an occasion of fun and frivolity but the victim was left "insulted, demeaned and dehumanised".

She had shown resilience by confronting Sykes, who "scarpered like a thief in the night".

"She is a symbol of the new woman, who has escaped from a cultural backdrop where women were oppressed and exploited and she was willing to resist and reject that and not allow herself to be treated in this way," the judge said of the victim.

"She is a great young girl. Not only did she resist her humiliation and exploitation, she went to the gardai. She is a great symbol for all women."

What happened was "very sinister and worrying" and a "vile, despicable act", he said.

Violation

"There is something perverted about the actions of your client," he told Mr Hanahoe.

"To put it mildly, his behaviour is the very antithesis of pride."

It was an "extraordinary violation" of a woman's person and dignity and "this was done by a man to an innocent woman on the streets of Dublin in broad daylight".

He said he took the accused's guilty plea and lack of prior convictions into account, but given the "heinous character" of the crime, he had no option but to jail him.

The judge added that he wanted to make it clear to anyone who thought they could use their phone to take "upskirt" images of women that it would not be tolerated.

Bail terms were fixed in the event of an appeal.

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