Bus groper convicted of sex assault – latest success for police project tackling passenger harassment

A man who groped a woman on a Birmingham bus has been convicted of sexual assault – the latest success in a police and public transport initiative designed to protect passengers from sexual harassment.

Samba Joof (pictured), from Woodwells Road in Ward End, stroked the woman’s leg and put his arm round her shoulder to demand a kiss after sitting next to the 23-year-old on a late night service in Erdington.

West Midlands Police officers working on Project Empower with the Safer Travel Partnership – a union between police and transport groups – released images of the assault taken from CCTV cameras on board the 11C bus.

Within 24 hours several members of the public got in touch to name 49-year-old Joof as a suspect having seen the images on Facebook and popular blog Birmingham Updates.

And at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday (Jan 16) he was handed a seven month prison sentence, suspended for two years, ordered to carry out 80 hours unpaid work in the community and to pay £700 costs after admitting sexual assault.

Joof, now living in Watford, must also notify police of his whereabouts – such as address changes – for the next 10 years.

Project Empower was launched last February to fast-track enquires into reports of sexual touching, lewd comments and indecent exposure and to urge passengers to report unwanted sexual advances on buses, trams and trains.

The team has investigated almost 100 allegations and made 26 arrests…11 of whom have now been convicted whilst several others are awaiting trial.

Sergeant Emma Holder, said: “We want to create an environment on the transport network that doesn’t tolerate intimidation or sexual harassment of any nature.

“Having a dedicated team looking at such offences means we can quickly establish any links between attacks, identify hot spot locations or routes of concern, and through closer links with transport providers get hold of evidence, like CCTV footage, much more readily.

“This particular case highlights a common tactic used by offenders: choosing a seat next to their victim despite there being many other available seats, thus trapping their target against the window and cutting off an escape route into the aisle.

“As part of Project Empower we’re training transport staff – including 4,000 bus drivers and conductors – to spot such tactics so they can potentially prevent offences, to support victims, and report suspicious behaviour.”

The West Midlands bus network is monitored by an extensive CCTV network – including 11,000 cameras on board buses – so offenders run a high risk of being identified.

One of those cameras recorded Joof boarding the 11C bus just before 11pm as it travelled in Bromford Road on 6 April last year.

He sat next to the woman and began stroking her leg before putting his arm around her and moving in for a kiss. In interview Joof, an industrial cleaner, claimed he “mis-read her body language” and wanted a kiss as she was “a nice girl”.

An image of the offender was circulated in the press, TV and on social media and when Joof was named as a suspect police arrested him on 3 June from his work address in Bromford Lane, Stechford; a search of his home uncovered a coat that matched the one worn by the offender.

Sgt Holder, added: “The woman told us she was very scared, too scared to shout out or tell him to stop. People should be free to go about their lives without fear of being harassed and, with the help of the public, we can stamp out this sort behaviour.

“I’d like to thank the people who got in touch with information, especially those who named Joof as a suspect, and anyone who took time to view the images and share them with social media friends.

“Offenders need to know that this type of behaviour won’t be tolerated.”

Project Empower works from the Birmingham HQ of transport authority Centro, in Summer Lane, and has access to hundreds of CCTV cameras monitoring public transport hubs and major routes across the West Midlands.

Cllr Kath Hartley, the vice chair of West Midlands public transport co-ordinator Centro, said: “I am delighted Project Empower has led to this man being apprehended and put before the courts.

“It sends out a very clear signal that such behaviour on the public transport network will not be tolerated and those who behave in such a way can expect to face justice.”