Film groper's secret life

A respected accountant and "family man" led a double life, in which he spent hours trawling darkened cinemas where he molested females.

Auckland father of two Attul Patel, 46, was convicted of two counts of indecent assault and one of unlawfully being on a property at Waitakere District Court this week.

The charges came from two separate incidents five months apart, the first of which was on January 21.

Patel - a Flat Bush resident - lurked around Event Cinema in Henderson, waiting until staff were preoccupied before sneaking into the theatre area without paying.

Though the cinema was nearly empty, he picked a spot next to a 13-year-old girl as the lights were dimmed. Ignoring her younger brother seated next to her, Patel began rubbing her bare thigh.

The girl tried to ignore him and moved her leg away but the offender persisted, "hissing" at her to try and attract her attention.

Eventually she moved seats and Patel left the theatre but he did not leave the complex.

Over the next four hours, CCTV footage showed him moving between several screenings, some in which he stayed for seconds, others for half an hour.

Police released photos of the man after the teenager reported the incident and Patel eventually handed himself in when a friend alerted his attention to media reports. Publicity around the case brought a 23-year-old woman forward too.

She told police she was also targeted and was able to pick Patel out when shown a photo booklet of potential offenders.

The victim had been with her fiance at another similarly quiet cinema at St Lukes in August when the offender sat next to her. Patel rubbed her thigh for two minutes, getting gradually higher up her leg before she moved seats.

At sentencing this week, his lawyer David Reece said the offending was "anxiety related" and since pleading guilty, he had started cognitive behavioural therapy with a psychologist.

Judge David Mather accepted that with treatment Patel was unlikely to repeat the offending but there were worrying elements of premeditation. "Spending many hours at the cinema without the normal intention of watching any movies clearly gives cause for some concern," he said.

"You fully recall the inappropriateness of your behaviour in January but have no recall of the August incident. The only explanation is your anxiety level, and behaviour as a consequence, manifested itself in a variety of different contexts."

Judge Mather sentenced Patel to 230 hours community work and 18 months intensive supervision to address his psychological issues. He was also ordered to pay $400 to each victim and $35 to Event Cinemas for the movies he could have watched while he was prowling.

In letters to the court, Patel was backed by both his wife Monita and Maurice Mar, a director at Simpson Mar where Patel worked. Mar told the Sunday Star-Times Patel would continue to work at the company. He refused to comment on the attitude of other staff members regarding his decision.

Detective Sergeant Steve Salton dismissed the possibility of other victims as "speculation" and praised the two victims for their courage in coming forward.

When approached for comment after the sentencing, Patel repeated: "Please, think of my kids" as he ran from Waitakere District Court after the hearing.

Sunday Star Times