A train commuter accused of indecency has walked free after telling a court he was merely strumming an imaginary banjo.
Before 54-year-old Melvyn Webb was acquitted, the judge had also informed the jury that men do sometimes innocently ‘fiddle with themselves in public’.
The case arose after a woman complained of seeing a newspaper moving on his lap as he breathed heavily.
Mr Webb, 54, denied a single charge of outraging public decency saying he was merely adjusting his underwear.
After his arrest, the health and safety adviser told police: ‘For my sins I play the banjo, so sometimes I do, with my hands, pick out a pattern on my knees.’
During the two-day trial the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, insisted: ‘I know what he was doing.’
The woman, who was listening to music on her iPod, was alerted when she felt movement against her leg and took out her headphones to hear Mr Webb’s heavy breathing, the court heard.
The prosecution claimed that no one sits next to a woman on a train adjusting their underwear in public.
However Recorder Jeremy Donne referred the jury to a 2007 BBC television documentary called Street Doctor, in which four GPs took to the streets to diagnose the public’s medical woes.
‘They made that very point and they had a series of films of men walking down the street and fiddling with themselves,’ said the judge, himself a train commuter.
He added men may be rude to reorganise themselves in the presence of women, but told jurors the practice was commonplace and in some cases revealed the early signs of prostate cancer.
Reading Crown Court heard Mr Webb had a respiratory tract infection, which he blamed for the heavy breathing on the day of his alleged crime last August.
He also submitted videos of himself playing a banjo to the prosecution, which they accepted as genuine.
Jurors giggled as Mr Webb was called on to mime his plucking, positioning the newspaper over his hand and tapping his fingers on his knee.
Describing his groin problem, Mr Webb added: ‘I was adjusting my underpants. I was uncomfortable.’
The jury of eight women and four men took three hours and 40 minutes to clear him by a majority verdict on Monday.
Speaking at the home he shares with his wife in Basingstoke, Hampshire, Mr Webb said: ‘I feel very, very angry about all this. It’s cost me a lot of money, eight days off work and a job.
‘I can understand a woman being distressed at that sort of thing, but I got the feeling her story grew after the police got involved. I’m bewildered it got this far. It’s been a big strain.’
Mr Webb quit his job with an education trust due to travel restrictions placed on him after his arrest. He has since found a job with another organisation.