A Jordanian paralympian and world record holder, sent home in disgrace along with two others, was freed when his 12 month jail term for sexual assault while training in Antrim in the run-up to the 2012 London paralympic games, was suspended for two years.
Crown Court Judge Jeffrey Miller QC on Tuesday told 33-year-old wheelchair-bound weight lifter Omar Sami Qaradhi, he had not only brought distress to his victims, he had abused the hospitality of Antrim, and brought shame on himself and fellow team members, and denied his country the real prospect of a gold medal.
Judge Miller also told Qaradhi: “For all this you must accept full responsibility and for the consequences to yourself, which this court accepts have been devastating”.
A remorseful and apologetic Qaradhi had earlier pleaded guilty to sexually touching a thearpist and two teenage girls, just as he was about to go on trial at the Antrim court. He was one of three Jordanian athletes sent home just a week before the start of the London games.
Although charges against two others, Faisal Hammash and Motaz Al-Junadi were eventually dropped, the Jordanian Paralympic Committee, at the time, said in a written statement that it decided to pull all three out because it “would be inappropriate for the accused athletes to compete” in the Games.
King Abdullah of Jordan took a personal interest in the case, and from the Jordanian Embassy in London, a letter of authorisation securing Qaradhi’s bail of £5,500, had been given to the court.
Judge Miller said that but for his offending Qaradhi could have brought “such pride to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordon and done so much for fellow paralympians and disabled people generally within the kingdom”.
The judge said while he had borne in mind all the circumstances of the case, he could not “lose sight of the fact that you were invited and welcomed to this town as a member of the Jordanian Paralympic Team.
“The local population took great pride in being associated with the Olympic Movement and then London Olympics by acting as a host town. By your actions you first and foremost brought distress to your victims. Behyond that you abused the hsopitality extended to you as a team member. You brought shame to your fellow team members who you let down”.
Earlier defence lawyer John McCrudden QC said he had been expressly instructed to make a complete and unqualified apology to each of the three victims. aradhi, he said, wished to apologise for the indignity, hurt and distress they had suffered as a result of his actions.
Mr McCrudden said that the paralympics would have been a life changing for Qaradhi, who was expected to win gold, and in return enjoyed fantastic success, and earn up to $70,000 (dollars money) from a grateful country. Instead, said Mr McCrudden, Qaradhi, whose gold-record breaking lift in the 2009 World Games, still stands, had lost everything.
The weight-lifter, who had literally ‘clawed’ his way out of poverty, had been, said Mr McCrudden, on the cusp of liberating not only himself, but also his widowed mother, but now everything had come ‘crashing down.
The athlete, he added, had been “plunged into shame, plunged into isolation” and banned from the very sport he loved.
Prosecution lawyer Neil Connor had told the court that the weight lifter had first sexually touched one 14-year-old, after duping her into posing for a photograph with him. Days later, he did the same to a second schoolgirl. One of the girls was later able to identify Qaradhi from a photograph which appeared in the local Antrim Guardian newspaper.
Mr Connor said the athlete was arrested after he had inappropriately touched a therapist during a physio session before training. She had fled in tears and reported the matter to her manager. However, the lawyer accepted that the assaults had been ‘opportunistic in nature, and short-lived’.
As part of his sentence Qaradhi was also put on the Sex Offenders’ Register for the next ten years, and during that time if he wishes to return here he must give prior notification to the appropriate police authority or port of enty before doing so.