Mid-air assaults a 'fall from grace'

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 27/03/2013

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The former director of a grounded flying school must do a hefty amount of community work and pay emotional harm reparation for three assaults against students - two of which took place in midair.

Ravindra Pal Singh, 65, was sentenced to 250 hours' community work and ordered to pay Illyas Valiyapeediyekal and Srishti Vijay $1000 each.

Singh was the director of Wings Flight Training Academy for Indian students that operated in Palmerston North and closed early last year.

Singh admitted assaulting Ms Vijay in early 2011 by strongly gripping her shoulder.

At a defended hearing Singh was found guilty of elbowing her during flights between May 25 and July 7, 2011.

"She said she thought she was going to die. She said [Singh] called her dumb and she felt demoralised," Judge Jennifer Binns said in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday. The same judge also found Singh guilty of slapping Mr Valiyapeediyekal across the face and shoving his head against the side of a cockpit during a flight on June 25, 2011.

Defence lawyer Tony Thackery said his client had 40 years' experience in the aviation industry, had lectured in five countries in Asia and Africa and had no previous convictions.

"He regards himself as a pioneer of getting Indian students in the country to study," Thackery said.

Reference letters handed to the court painted Singh in a positive light and noted he was a member of the region's exclusive "officer's club". The judge took that and the positive reviews of Singh's teaching into account, but noted his offending was an abuse of trust from people who also saw him as a confidant and friend.

"Your denial and casting blame on the victim and advancing a conspiracy theory was inappropriate and not well founded," the judge told Singh, referring to his defence to the mid-air charges - that he was the victim of a cabal of failing students who wanted to stay in New Zealand.

"This is a spectacular fall from grace and you have suffered from the publicity."

Singh was also ordered to pay Vijay $784 and Valiyapeediyekal $486 in expenses.

Outside court he said he was thinking about filing an appeal against the convictions for mid-air assaults. He said he was otherwise a good person who donated money to charities and gave people a chance when employing flight instructors.

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- Manawatu Standard

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