Yoga teacher molested 13-year-old schoolgirl over health spa message

A teenage girl has been molested by a yoga teacher after inviting her to a massage at a health spa.

Philip Bannister, 65, groped the victim’s chest under her underwear after advising her to undress and lie in bed. Described by those who knew him as a “pillar of the community”, Bannister also filmed “sexy” of his victims.

The 13-year-old girl was told to pose for the camera and pouted. Now a judge has handed him a 20-month suspended sentence, saying Bannister was “fascinated and attracted to her”.

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Bannister, of St Alban’s Road, Darwin, was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years. Prosecuting David Trainor told Preston Crown Court that Bannister’s victim was known to him, LancsLive reported.

The judge said when Bannister invited the girls to the spa day, she thought it would be “giggling”. Bannister draped a towel over the little girl, massaged her calves and thighs, and moved to her back. He then said he would massage the girl’s belly but continued to molest her.

The girl later told police it felt “weird because I don’t know why he did it.” Months later, the girl, who could not be identified for legal reasons, told a friend who called to the young man’s father and tell him what happened.

Her father confronted Bannister, who admitted he had massaged the teenager and it was “unwise”. On another occasion, the mother of a friend of her daughter contacted the girl’s mother to tell her she had seen some inappropriate photos on her daughter’s iPad. After his arrest, Bannister, a church-goer, contacted parish protection officials for advice.

He also separated from his wife and moved out of the Preston area, his barrister Ms Fitzpatrick told the court. She said the defendant had an excellent work history but retired in 2014 following a heart attack and subsequent bypass surgery. He now teaches yoga to adults, she said.

Canon Adrian Tal referred to the court, where he described Bannister as “a sincere and religious man who was distressed by what happened”. When police spoke to Bannister, he denied the massage was sexual, but later admitted to having sex with children.

Judge Guy Matheson said: “It’s a hopelessly obsessed man, even though he doesn’t accept it. He’s still trying to prove it’s some kind of innocent massage.”

As Bannister stood ashamed in the dock, the judge told him: “You not only abused the girl, you abused her trust and her parents’ trust. I know very well that even if you still deny that your motive is sexual Yes. You start obsessing over her and being attracted to her when she’s obviously a naive child and start seeing her as a young woman. You’re sexualizing her whether she realizes it or not.

“She may think dressing up and being photographed is just about dressing up and having fun, but their ulterior motives for you are the exact opposite, egging her on to pose and pout for your sexual gratification.”

He said Bannister suggested spa trips to girls and encouraged massages. “I suspect you want to go further, but dare not,” he said. The judge said he accepted the references, including one from Bannister’s ex-wife, who supported him in the public gallery, calling the offence untimely and “one-off”. He said Bannister had taken steps to “stay away from temptation.”

He ordered the defendants to undertake a 50-day rehabilitation activity requirement and made a sexual injury prevention order and a restraining order.

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