‘Skin on skin’: Sex assault allegations against MasterChef star Ben Ungermann aired in court05/19/2021
A teenager who was allegedly sexually assaulted by MasterChef star Ben Ungermann told police she felt “skin on skin” when he allegedly put his hand under her shirt, rubbed her on her side and put his hand under the waistband of her pants.
Mr Ungermann was charged with three counts of sexual assault last year after the 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, accused him of touching her without her consent on February 23 last year in Melbourne’s Docklands. She was 16 at the time.
Ben Ungermann left MasterChef mid-season.Credit:Scenic Rim Eat Local/Heather Wehl
In the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Mr Ungermann’s lawyer made an application for the case to be permanently suspended, arguing it was impossible for her client to receive a fair hearing.
Barrister Abbie Roodenburg said that evidence had been lost or destroyed, including text messages between the complainant and her boyfriend on the night of the alleged offending which they had deleted. These were likely relevant to the inquiry and created a “gap in the evidence”, Ms Roodenburg said.
Within the phone records collected by police was a Snapchat photo the teen sent to her boyfriend showing her with Mr Ungermann’s arms around her neck and the text “help”, the court heard.
Ms Roodenburg said at the heart of the application was an allegation that the teenager had been coached by police during the investigation.
“The main thrust of this argument is the contamination and infection of the complainant’s evidence. That is the main basis of this permanent stay application,” she said.
The court was played part of the teenager’s second video interview with police, in which she was asked whether she remembered previously saying anything about Mr Ungermann “putting his hands down your pants”.
The girl shook her head, before she was asked to demonstrate where she was touched. She then touched her side and put her hand in the waistband of her pants.
“This is the first time that action is used … this is different to what she demonstrated in the first [police interview],” Ms Roodenburg said.
In the interview, the teenager also said that she “felt his skin on my skin and I kind of like, shrunk into a ball”.
The court was also played part of the complainant’s first interview, in which she says Mr Ungermann, who was lying on a bed, pulled her down by her hip and put his hand around and under her shirt.
“He went underneath … then he went more down but that’s when [my boyfriend] called and I got up,” she said. “He was rubbing.”
Ms Roodenburg said during the police investigation a conference was held between a detective, the complainant and her mother during which they discussed the alleged sexual assault and the teen “introduced a new allegation”, which resulted in a third police interview.
“Mr Ungermann is entitled to have the police investigation conducted properly and fairly without coaching witnesses, meeting in ways that is not disclosed and without discussing witness evidence with key witnesses in the case,” she said.
“These are … experienced officers. Prescribed people who do extra training to be able to undertake [police interviews with children].”
She argued it would be impossible for her to cross-examine the complainant and “unscramble evidence she’d been told by police”.
Magistrate Mia Stylianou said the questioning by police in some circumstances had not been ideal, but parts of the application for a permanent stay were “really quite bold”.
“What you’ve described in some incidents is far from ideal in terms of best practice … far from ideal,” she said.
“You don’t expect that from experienced officers in a sex offences unit, but that’s why we have trials, to examine these people [and] give them the opportunity to respond,” she said.
The prosecution conceded that while it appeared the investigation may have deviated from best practice, there was nothing in the application that would satisfy the test of a permanent stay in granting immunity to the accused.
Ms Stylianou will rule on the application on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Ungermann was runner-up in season nine of MasterChef in 2017, and also featured in last year’s MasterChef: Back to Win before he was dropped from the season after he was charged.
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