London: An Indian travelling to the UK on a tourist visa has been jailed for 12 months for carrying out a "prolonged" sexual assault on a young woman during a long-haul flight from Mumbai to Manchester earlier this year.
Hardeep Singh, 36, will be deported back to India at the end of his sentence.
Hardeep Singh, who pinned the woman passenger down on her seat during the flight, was sentenced to 12 months in jail at Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester on Thursday.
"From the outset of the flight, Singh's behaviour was despicable. After checking the woman was unaccompanied, he began to invade her personal space, pestering her and making unwanted physical contact, despite the passenger making it clear she did not want to engage him in conversation," said Detective Constable Catherine Evans of Greater Manchester Police's Airport Team.
"Waiting until the woman and surrounding passengers were asleep, Singh subjected the woman to a prolonged sexual assault, forcibly restraining her when she tried to move away. Numbed with fear, it was only after she summoned the strength to overpower him that she was able to run away and raise the alarm," she said.
The court heard that on February 23, the woman in her 20s was aboard the flight from Mumbai and Hardeep Singh was in the seat to one side of her, the officer said.
He was visiting Britain on a six-month tourist visa. Upon boarding the aircraft in Mumbai, Hardeep Singh tried to engage the woman in conversation. She tried to be polite but began to feel uncomfortable and could not understand him as he did not speak English clearly, she said.
While attempting to engage her in conversation during the course of the flight, Hardeep Singh asked her whether the woman sat on the other side of her was her mother and - while she was watching a film - removed her headphones and tried to talk to her again, the court was told.
When she got up to use the facilities, Hardeep Singh refused to move aside so she could get to the aisle comfortably, forcing her to squeeze past him. After the lights on the aircraft were turned down, due to the time of the flight, the woman and the other passengers around her went to sleep under their blankets, the officer said.
The woman woke to find Hardeep Singh sexually assaulting her. She tried to push him away but he persisted.
Everyone else around her on the aircraft was asleep. She repeatedly told him to stop and tried to remove his hands. She attempted to move away but Hardeep Singh hooked her legs off the ground so she couldn't get up. She felt isolated and vulnerable as everyone else was asleep and she couldn't see any cabin crew around to help, the officer said. He also tried to kiss her, the court hearing was told.
The assault lasted for around 15 minutes before she was able to struggle free and move to the back of the plane where she reported Hardeep Singh to a member of the cabin crew, the court was told.
He was moved away from the woman for the remainder of the flight and cabin crew contacted local Manchester police, whose officers were waiting at the Manchester Airport when the plane landed. Hardeep Singh was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and initially denied the offences.
"We're pleased with Thursday's sentence and hope the woman can move forward knowing that he's behind bars. We hope the courage of this woman and this positive court result encourages other victims to come forward and report incidents of sexual assault to police," the Detective Constable added.