North Okanagan youth worker acquitted of sexual assault - InfoNews

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North Okanagan youth worker acquitted of sexual assault

June 21, 2019 - 1:40 PM

VERNON - A youth care worker charged with having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy in her care was found not guilty today at the Vernon courthouse.

Justice Joel Groves found Tamara Marie Nicholls, born 1991, not guilty of two charges of sexual assault and sexual interference of a person under 16.

Nicholls teared up and wiped her eyes when the judge read the verdict today, June 21.

The alleged incident were said to have happened predominantly at the care home where she worked when she was 26-years-old and where the 15-year-old complainant was living in May 2017.

Justice Groves said while the circumstances were suspicious, and there was a "strong suspicion" it was not enough to make it believable beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It is fair to conclude that something was going on here, and it was potentially inappropriate, perhaps... on a civil standard actionable," the judge said. "But the evidence of the complainant is too fraught with inconsistencies and questionable believability."

When asked for comment outside the courtroom Nicholls replied, "I have nothing except you guys owe me an apology."

Over the course of the trial early this year, the court heard how the complainant had moved into the care home after the relationship at his home had broken down. The court heard how he suffered from ADHD, depression, anxiety and had boundary issues, coupled with a long history of drug abuse. A teacher had described him as "a vulnerable young man."

The court had heard of five incidents between the complainant and Nicholls. All had taken place over the clothes and there was no allegation of sexual intercourse.

While evidence of a Facebook messenger conversation between Nicholls and the complainant had been presented to the court, over half of the messages were earlier deemed not admissible.

Justice Groves said while the Facebook messages "raise suspicion" that was not enough when there were "other possible interpretations" of the messages.

He told the court it "boiled down" to the evidence of the complainant.

Justice Groves said although the complainant had given "straightforward" evidence and "he appeared to be trying to be truthful" there were "odd factors at play" which caused him not to be able to rely on the evidence.

The judge pointed to a variety of inconsistencies in the evidence the complainant had given the court.

He questioned why the complainant first told police two incidents had happened, then in the preliminary inquiry three incidents, and then during the trial, five instances were conceded to have happened. The complainant had previously told the court he didn't tell the full story initially as he was in love with Nicholls.

"It is also true his story got considerably flushed out during cross (examination)," Justice Groves said.

The judge pointed to an alleged incident where the complainant had testified they had been fondling each other under a blanket on the couch in the care home while another youth had been in the vicinity. And of another incident where the complainant fondled Nicholls from the backseat of her car while she drove with another youth in the passenger seat.

The judge told the court "these actions... do not accord with people trying to hide a forbidden relationship."

"I cannot find his evidence sufficiently reliable to make it believable beyond reasonable doubt, though suspicion is there, and perhaps a strong suspicion is there, that is not enough," Justice Groves said before giving the court his not guilty verdict.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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