Grope-accused golfer's conduct 'not voluntary' after touching woman's breast on flight, jury told

Ryder Cup winner Thorbjorn Olesen claims he has no memory of his 'bizarre behaviour' on board the British Airways plane from Nashville to London

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Ryder Cup winner Thorbjorn Olesen was acting as an “automaton” and not in control of his body when he touched a woman’s breast on a British Airways flight, a court has heard.

The Danish golfer, 31, claims he has no memory of his “bizarre behaviour” on board the plane from Nashville to London after taking sleeping tablets left in his wash bag by partner Lauren Zafer.

Olesen was on the eight-hour flight with other professionals including England’s Ian Poulter, 45, and Justin Rose, 41, following the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis.

Aldersgate House Nightingale Court, in central London, heard how he had drunk beer, red wine, vodka and champagne before take-off.

The five-time European Tour winner ran around the cabin “like a little boy”, got trapped in the toilet, and became verbally abusive to cabin crew when challenged, the jury was told.

Danish golfer Thorbjorn Olesen arriving for a hearing in his court case at Aldersgate House, London, where he is accused of sexual assault, being drunk on an aircraft and assault by beating. The five-time European Tour winner was arrested on his return from the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational on a flight from Nashville to London on July 29, 2019. Picture date: Wednesday December 8, 2021.
Danish golfer Thorbjorn Olesen arriving for a hearing in his court case at Aldersgate House, London, where he is accused of sexual assault, being drunk on an aircraft and assault by beating. The five-time European Tour winner was arrested on his return from the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational on a flight from Nashville to London on July 29, 2019. Picture date: Wednesday December 8, 2021.

Witnesses said the sportsman pushed BA worker Sarah White, kissed cabin service director Graham Gee’s hand before making the sign of the cross, and nuzzled his face into a woman’s neck before grabbing her breast.

Olesen then cried before falling asleep, but later got up and urinated on fellow first-class passenger John Haggis’s seat, the court has heard.

He said he had wanted to fall asleep immediately on the plane having played several big tournaments, including the Open, and had no memory of his behaviour after being served a glass of champagne before take-off.

Olesen, of Chelsea, west London, denies sexual assault, assault and being drunk on an aircraft on July 29, 2019, claiming he was not in control of himself at the time.

“His conduct was not voluntary, that is the essence of automatism,” his barrister Trevor Burke QC told the jury on Wednesday.

Mr Burke said Olesen took two melanin tablets, which he regularly used to tackle jet lag, along with two prescription-only Ambien/Zolpadine pills ordered from a “dodgy website” by Ms Zafer, the mother of his child.

Danish golfer Thorbjorn Olesen arriving for a hearing in his court case at Aldersgate House, London, where he is accused of sexual assault, being drunk on an aircraft and assault by beating. The five-time European Tour winner was arrested on his return from the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational on a flight from Nashville to London on July 29, 2019. Picture date: Wednesday December 8, 2021.
Danish golfer Thorbjorn Olesen arriving for a hearing in his court case at Aldersgate House, London, where he is accused of sexual assault, being drunk on an aircraft and assault by beating. The five-time European Tour winner was arrested on his return from the World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational on a flight from Nashville to London on July 29, 2019. Picture date: Wednesday December 8, 2021.

The court has heard the medication can cause side effects including memory loss, lack of co-ordination and sleepwalking, and Mr Burke said all of his client’s actions were “explainable, medically speaking”.

“He would never have knowingly taken them had he recognised even the remotest risk of his life being completely ruined,” he told jurors.

Mr Burke said Olesen’s character was “key” to the jury’s verdicts and that they were trying a “thoroughly decent man,” who would never have willingly risked his career, which “is over” if he is found guilty.

“All this man has ever wanted to do was play golf, please let him play it again,” he added.

But prosecutor Max Hardy urged the jury to convict Olesen if they were sure he had some control at the time or found he was “reckless” in taking the pills.

He said: “Were those golfers letting their hair down after a very stressful period, including what some people consider the most important golf tournament of the year?”

He added: “Is there a possibility of deliberate consumption of alcohol and pills for recreational purposes knowing that was not going to cause any trouble with doping rules?”

Olesen was part of the European Ryder Cup team that beat the US in 2018 and had lucrative sponsorship deals with firms including Nike, BMW, Rolex and Titleist.

He was suspended following his arrest on landing at Heathrow Airport and has struggled on the European Tour since being reinstated, plummeting from 51st to 440th in the world rankings.

The trial continues.