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Wednesday, August 31, 2022 – A newlywed groom groped a dozing student under a blanket for up to two hours while flying home from his Hawaii honeymoon, a court heard.
City trader Robert Van Den Bergh, 37, is accused of caressing the woman’s thigh on the flight to Heathrow between December 31, 2019, and January 1, 2020.
Van Den Bergh’s wife was travelling on a separate pre-booked flight when the incident happened.
The victim, an economics student, was sitting in the window seat in economy class next to Van Den Bergh. She had taken two sleeping pills and Van Den Bergh allegedly joked that they could make her unconscious.
The student dozed off and awoke to Van Den Bergh touching the middle of her thigh as the motion grew “stronger and more deliberate”, jurors heard.
The Gazprom analyst later told police that keeping a distance from the student was “quite difficult” in Economy class and that being awoken mid-flight had been “awkward”.
After around an hour and a half, he got up to use the toilet and the woman requested to move seat.
Upon landing at Heathrow police officers boarded the aircraft and escorted Van Ben Bergh off the plane.
Van Den Bergh has denied sexual assault.
Giving evidence in court, the woman said: “I felt his fingers grazing my left thigh. I was unsure whether it was intentional or not.
“At first [the touching] was light and unnoticeable but it gradually grew in confidence and after two hours I knew that it was intentional.
“There was more pressure over time, and it was long strokes. I tried to move more towards the window of the plane.
“At one point it went towards where my underwear was, towards the end of my thigh and my bum.
“I felt like he was picking at my underwear and feeling the contours of it, as though he was sort of lifting the seam a little bit.
“I just was very scared and I didn’t know what to do in the situation. I was just full of fear.”
She added: “I wanted to get out of my seat and that’s when I looked at his face. I saw that his body was angled towards me and his eyes were closed. He turned so that his torso was facing me.”
Giving evidence today, August 31, Van Den Bergh told the court he has worked in London as a fundamental analyst since 2016.
He is currently married to his wife, Romy and they have a one-year-old child.
The Gazprom power and coal analyst told police he had been travelling separately from his wife because she was travelling with a friend.
He said he had chatted to both women either side of him in the flight, and had tossed and turned while he slept.
Van Den Bergh had told police in interview: “You try to keep a distance, but it is quite difficult in Economy.
“I can confirm that I would never do that. I’ve never done anything remotely like that. I would be very surprised of anything of that order of magnitude.”
In court, police body cam footage showed a police constable questioning the complainant at Heathrow airport immediately after the incident.
He asked her: “Do you want us to arrest him? Do you want us to press charges?’ to which the woman replied: ‘I don’t have a lot of money or time.”
The officer assured her that it would not cost her anything to press charges and so she agreed to the arrest.
Van Den Bergh, of Hackney, denies sexual assault. The trial continues.