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Crown: 'You can’t grab people for sexual purpose because they smile at you'

Defence points to complainant's inconsistencies during sexual assault trial of Palmerston's Michael Hurst
Michael Hurst leaves the courthouse during a break on Monday. He's on trial for five counts of sexual assault.

*Warning: this story contains elements that some may find triggering.

*Editor's note: A publication ban covers any information that might identify the victims in this case, including many details of the incidents themselves.

Based on his own admission of facts in court, a Palmerston man on trial for sexual assault should be convicted of at least two of the five charges he’s facing, believes assistant Crown attorney Peter Keen.

That remark came during closing arguments in the trial of Michael Hurst, 46, who pleaded not guilty earlier this week to alleged encounters involving two women between 2017 and 2020. The reported incidents – ranging from the touching of women’s buttocks and breasts to oral sex and intercourse – are said to have largely happened in Wellington North.

Much of the evidence presented in the case, which is being heard in Guelph, is covered by a publication ban aimed at protecting the identities of the complainants. 

Hurst testified Wednesday in his own defence, stating he believed the women to have flirted with him and therefore consented to his actions. He said one repeatedly brushed against him and smiled, while another wore a tight shirt and talked with him in a friendly fashion.

“You can’t grab people for sexual purpose because they smile at you,” Keen told the jury of eight men and four women. “He’s suggesting to you that’s what he genuinely believed was consent.

“Does that make sense?” Keen asked rhetorically. “You need to have some serious doubts about his evidence.”

Keen called for conviction on all five counts.

Though there are some differences between the versions of events presented by Hurst and the complainants, much of the evidence is consistent, Keen continued. The main contradictory point was whether there was expressed consent.

Defence attorney Mary Murphy explained to the jury that it’s not up to Hurst to prove his innocence, but rather the Crown to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, pointing to the presumption of innocence.

Based on his perception of flirting, Hurst “had the view something further might be welcome,” in terms of sexually touching the complainants, Murphy explained. “He honestly believed consent had been communicated.”

She went on to call the credibility of the complainants into question.

Murphy highlighted inconsistencies between the testimony provided by one complainant and her sworn statement to police – specifically the number of encounters and whether Hurst “grabbed” the woman or “gestured” her to the floor to perform oral sex.

“It really suggests that something could have happened that she’s not willing to comment on,” Murphy said, referring to the woman testifying in detail about fewer incidents than she reported to police. “It’s open to you to question why the difference.”

In response, Keen reminded the jury that complainant testified to having health issues that impact her memory. However, he pointed to her testimony that she felt pressured and opted to comply because she was fearful of the perceived potential for repercussions.

“There’s a difference between acquiescence and consent,” Keen noted.

Hurst knew what he was doing was wrong, the assistant Crown attorney continued, because he acknowledged on the stand that he wouldn’t have done what he did if he hadn’t been alone with each of the women.

Beyond the testimony of the two complainants and Hurst, no evidence was presented during the trial.

With the evidence portion of the trial concluded, jury deliberations are expected to begin on Monday.

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Richard Vivian

About the Author: Richard Vivian

Richard Vivian is an award-winning journalist and longtime Guelph resident. He joined the GuelphToday team as assistant editor in 2020, largely covering municipal matters and general assignment duties
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