Tyne & Wear

Longhorsley vicar Peter McConnell denies drunken plane grope

Reverend Peter McConnell entering court
Image caption Reverend Peter McConnell said he behaved responsibly on board the plane

A vicar has denied drunkenly groping a student on a trans-Atlantic flight.

The Reverend Peter McConnell is alleged to have rubbed the US man's groin on a flight from Philadelphia to Heathrow in March 2017.

Mr McConnell, of Longhorsley, Northumberland, had been drinking heavily and spoke about strip clubs, Newcastle Crown Court has heard.

The 64-year-old, who was vicar at St Helen's Church in the village at the time, denies sexual assault.

The trial had previously heard the student woke up to find Mr McConnell touching him under a blanket.

Mr McConnell had been returning from visiting his terminally ill sister in the US and was with his godson.

Giving evidence, he said he had drunk "four, maybe five" quarter bottles of wine on the flight, and added: "I know how much I can drink and behave responsibly."

'Perhaps not appropriate'

He admitted he had spoken about a variety of subjects including topless bars, which his godson had visited during their trip to the US.

Mr McConnell told the jury: "Perhaps it was not appropriate. I regret saying that."

He went on to describe such venues as "fairly innocent places for people who like that sort of thing".

"You go there and look. You don't touch," he said.

He told the court he had visited one several years ago, accompanied by his wife, but added it was "not his sort of thing".

The jury was told Mr McConnell was ordained in 1991 and had also been chief chaplain of Northumbria Police - a role he said involved speaking to children about "right and wrong".

In his evidence on Monday the student, who cannot be named, said Mr McConnell discussed a sex act and repeatedly asked him: "Are you mischievous?"

He alleges the vicar blamed alcohol for his actions and asked for forgiveness.

The trial continues.

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