'Up-skirt photos' land insurance executive Neil Ashcroft in court

Surreptitious photos taken in his office, prosecution claims

03 March 2019 - 00:00 By SHAIN GERMANER

An executive at a global insurance and risk management firm has been dismissed, and criminally charged, following complaints that he was taking compromising pictures of his colleagues and uploading them to a porn site.
Neil Ashcroft is the former business development executive at Marsh Africa, the local branch of the firm. He appeared last week in the Randburg magistrate's court on a charge of crimen injuria. He was arrested in December.
Ashcroft allegedly invited female colleagues to his office, and using the camera on his phone, attempt to take up-skirt images. He allegedly put these on the porn site xhamster.com.
According to Sandton police spokesperson Capt Granville Meyer, one of the women's colleagues discovered the photos. He confirmed the arrest and the court appearance.
Meyer said there was only one complainant in the criminal matter, but a spokesperson for the insurance company said many people had been affected by Ashcroft's alleged conduct.
"On November 20 2017 a Marsh colleague raised matters of inappropriate conduct by then Marsh employee Neil Ashcroft. Mr. Ashcroft was suspended from the firm the following day and, after an investigation, was subsequently dismissed. Affected colleagues were offered a range of support, including counselling. We have co-operated fully with the police investigation," the company said.
Last week, when Ashcroft appeared at court, the charge sheet had not been finalised, with only a single charge of crimen injuria against him.
Prosecutor Wessel Schiebler told the court that the state was still awaiting a forensic report following downloads of Ashcroft's electronic devices.
The case has been postponed to allow police to complete the investigation.
Following a series of queries sent to Ashcroft's lawyer, Rudi Pottas, Ashcroft declined to comment on the allegations against him. However, Pottas did confirm that his client's business relationship with Marsh had ended.
Bafana Khumalo, a senior strategic adviser and gender activist at Sonke Gender Justice, said incidents of workplace harassment often deeply affected the self-esteem and mental health of complainants.
"Such stories are rampant in the workplace and have such a major impact on those affected. It can affect work processes, and the confidence in the work they do," he said.
Khumalo said that in dealing with victims of sexual harassment and breach of privacy, he often noted the victims would ask how they contributed to being targeted by their harassers, essentially blaming themselves.
"Such clear violations of women's dignity can create paranoia in the workplace, with women suspecting the men in their offices," Khumalo said.
"You'd be surprised how many companies - and political parties - do not have sexual harassment policies.
"Many of these companies often don't take these incidents seriously, and will sometimes even try and negotiate for them to go away."
Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at Shepstone & Wylie attorneys and an expert on social media law, said a charge of crimen injuria - the wilful injury to someone's dignity - was the most effective remedy in such cases.
"If there are a number of images that a perpetrator posted of one particular person on different occasions - in other words, there is a pattern of harassment - then there could be grounds for the person to obtain a protection from harassment order from the magistrate's court where they could be ordered to remove the pictures and also stopped from harassing the victim in future," she said.
"Unfortunately, examples such as the one described [Ashcroft's case] are becoming all too common in the digital age and there is tremendous scope to invade the privacy of people egregiously with the technology available."
She said the Cybercrimes Bill is in the final stages of the parliamentary process, under consideration by the National Council of Provinces.
"This act has very far-reaching implications and was designed and developed to deal with, among other issues, the types of scenarios described. It deals with the criminalisation of harmful data messages and any crimes that are related to the cyberworld."
She said the Protection of Personal Information Act, which has been passed but is not yet fully in force, could also provide a remedy to victims of such crimes.
"A victim would be able to complain to the information regulator for the unauthorised publication of private images, as they are a form of personal information," she said...

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