An award-winning Banchory potato farmer has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two female members of staff.
Colin Blackhall, 71, was on trial at Aberdeen Sheriff Court facing several charges that he sexually touched the women while they worked at his farm, TLC Potatoes Ltd, over a 12-year period.
While giving evidence, one woman stated that Blackhall had placed his hands on her backside and pulled her towards his groin.
She said this was in response to Blackhall hearing the Steve Miller Band singing ‘Abracadabra, I wanna reach out and grab ya’ on the radio.
When she protested about his unwanted advances, Blackhall warned her not to “bite the hand that feeds her”.
A second woman also claimed Blackhall sexually assaulted her while they worked inside a polytunnel.
Following a two-day trial, Sheriff Lesley Johnston found Blackhall, of Wardend Farm, Durris, guilty of three charges of sexual assault.
The sheriff told Blackhall – whose contribution to the farming industry won him the James Hardie Award in 2010 – she didn’t find him a “credible or reliable witness” or his claims that the women had “conspired to make this incident up”.
‘He was my boss, not my boyfriend’
During the trial, the court heard from one woman who claims she received a number of unwanted advances from Blackhall while working at TLC Potatoes.
She said the potato farmer sent her lingerie and even wrote her passionate letters where he professed his affection for her.
“I told him he shouldn’t give me these sorts of gifts,” she said. “He was my boss, not my boyfriend.”
In a letter written on Valentine’s Day 2009, Blackhall told the woman: “Please don’t tell me to stop looking at you, I’m much too fond of what I see.”
In another he described her as a “most sensual woman”.
The woman also told the court Blackhall grabbed her on the buttocks while Abracadabra played in the background – with him squeezing her “so hard it started hurting”.
She added that Blackhall then pulled her toward him and was “rubbing” his private parts against her.
According to the woman, Blackhall also informed her he had committed a sex act at her workstation when she wasn’t there.
“I was shocked,” she said. “It made me feel worth absolutely nothing.”
And when she got angry about Blackhall’s actions toward her, she alleges he told her not to “bite the hand that feeds her” if she wanted to keep her job.
During cross-examination, defence solicitor Graham Morrison suggested to the woman that Blackhall’s behaviour during the song Abracadabra was “part of the tactile japery” of the farm.
She replied that all she remembered was being “very angry” about it.
Regarding the letters Blackhall sent, Mr Morrison asked her if she could have asked him to stop sending them.
“It’s difficult to say to your boss to just stop doing these things,” she said.
The court also heard evidence from a second woman who claimed Blackhall had slapped her on the buttocks as they worked together in a polytunnel.
Her account was backed up by a man who was also working in the polytunnel at the time.
Banchory farmer Colin Blackhall had become ‘enamoured’ by employee
While giving evidence, Blackhall was quizzed by fiscal depute Andrew McMann over why he would buy lingerie for an employee.
“Sending her [lingerie] was inappropriate, wasn’t it?” the fiscal asked.
“Yes, I would accept that,” Blackhall replied.
In final speeches to the jury, Mr Morrison conceded his client had “become enamoured by a younger, intelligent woman”.
“There’s no fool like an old fool but it doesn’t make him a criminal,” he added.
Following the verdict, Sheriff Johnston deferred sentence on Blackhall until March 13 in order a criminal justice social work report and a restriction of liberty order assessment.
She also placed Blackhall on the sex offenders register.
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