Hotel spa masseur denies tourist's rape accusation

A spa masseur was remanded in custody after he was charged with having raped a female tourist when giving her a massage at a hotel

A spa masseur has been remanded in custody after he was charged with having raped a female tourist when giving her a massage at a hotel.

Xghajra resident Clince Douglas Moses, 28, was arraigned before magistrate Leonard Caruana by Inspectors John Spiteri and Ryan Vella on Thursday morning.

Giving an overview of what had led to the man’s arrest, Inspector Spiteri told the court on Saturday 11th February, the police had received a report from a tourist who had been staying at a hotel in St. Pauls Bay. 

The woman told the police that she had booked a massage at the hotel spa. During that massage, the accused had made unwanted sexual advances towards the woman, he said. “She told us that he had penetrated her with his finger and put her breast in his mouth,” said the inspector, candidly. The legal definition of the offence of rape had been amended in 2021 to include non-consensual penetration with an object.

The shocked woman had stopped the massage and left the spa, immediately filing a police report, Inspector Spiteri explained. A search and arrest warrant was then issued against the accused by duty magistrate Astrid May Grima, which was executed yesterday afternoon.

The court was told that the alleged victim’s holiday had since come to an end and that she was currently abroad, having flown home, but that she would be able to testify via video conference. 

Inspector Spiteri told the court that despite being rostered, the accused had failed to turn up for work the day after the incident, something which the police had found suspicious. Police were unable to find Douglas-Moses at his registered address, he said, adding the accused had also switched off his mobile phone.

Police investigations subsequently revealed that, besides working at the spa, the accused also had another full time job somewhere else. The accused was subsequently arrested at his second workplace.

Amongst other things, Inspector Spiteri exhibited the man’s passport, residence permit and the accused’s two audiovisual statements - one on 15 Feb and the other on the 16th, in court. 

The accused, an Indian national residing in Fgura, told the court that he worked as a machinery operator. He was charged with rape, detaining the woman against her will and committing an act of a sexual nature on the woman, without her consent.

His lawyer Alfred Abela entered a plea of not guilty on the accused’s behalf. The defence then requested bail.

Abela asked inspector Spiteri whether the prosecution had any civilian eyewitnesses to produce. Only the accused and the woman had been inside the room during the commission of the alleged crime, replied the inspector, but said that there were other people who saw the woman entering and exiting the room and who would testify about the change in her demeanour.

Police had also carried out a search of the accused man’s residence, said the inspector, in reply to another question.

Inspector Spiteri gave the court a brief explanation of why the prosecution felt it would be premature to release the man on bail. 

“Whilst the presumption of innocence is an important right, in the case before us the most crucial point is the risk of the accused absconding from Malta to evade justice,” he said. “When the accused had been asked why he hadn’t gone to work on Sunday, he explained that he had understood that something had happened and that he hadn’t felt comfortable going to work.

“During the course of the investigation, it emerged that from Sunday to date, the accused had been contacting people living abroad, particularly in Italy and Spain, looking for work in a spa or to open a spa business.” This fact was documented, he added. Although Malta did have a bilateral extradition agreement with India, extradition proceedings took a long time to conclude and were not always successful, he explained.

Bail was also opposed due to the fear of the accused tampering with evidence. The magisterial inquiry had gathered the testimony of the alleged victim, but only in part, the court was told. The technical expert appointed by the inquiring magistrate to examine the spa’s CCTV cameras found that these devices were only “live” cameras which did not record footage.

“Therefore if the accused is released on bail, he could easily communicate with his employer and work colleagues, who had all seen and spoken to the victim,” Inspector Spiteri argued, telling the court that instead of offering to help the victim communicate with the police, the spa management had offered her a discount on her stay, or another massage.

“Therefore if he is released on bail, justice could not be served until these three witnesses testify. There is also the fourth and most important witness: the alleged victim,” the inspector went on. “For some reason, the woman’s number was found on the accused’s mobile phone,” the inspector said, adding that this had been revealed to the police by the accused himself.

Abela, for the defence, submitted that the inspector’s concerns were all abstract. The alleged incident had taken place five days ago and the accused had ample opportunity to contact the alleged victim had he wanted to, but he didn’t. Neither did he contact the other witnesses or try to leave the country, said the lawyer. 

“Yes, there are suspicions, but isn’t this man still, in fact, here? He was arrested at his workplace, five days after the alleged incident.”

“The prosecution doesn’t have the slightest bit of evidence to show that anything actually happened,” argued Abela, adding that leaving the island would have been very easy for the accused. He also pointed out that the alleged victim was no longer in Malta.

Making his counter-arguments, Inspector Spiteri said he agreed with what the lawyer had said, “but what he didn’t say was that all this referred to a time when the accused was trying to find out whether he had been reported to the police or not. Now he knows and this is the game changer.” The prosecutor suggested that the accused had been aware of the fact that the woman was going to leave Malta the next day. “He was studying his options, and in fact, he didn’t go to work the next day.”

The court, after hearing the parties’ bail submissions, said that it would be denying bail at this stage, due to the risk of the accused absconding or suborning civilian witnesses.

The court also issued a protection order in favour of the woman, upholding the relative prosecution request. The magistrate explained to the accused that he was prohibited from attempting to communicate or follow the alleged victim, and that if he attempted to do so, he faced a possible fine of €7,000.

At the defence’s request, the court also ordered a ban on the publication of the name of the hotel and spa. The court also upheld the prosecution’s request for a ban on the publication of the name and whereabouts of the alleged victim.