Taxi driver assaulted female passenger before raping another

TAXI DRIVER GUILTY OF RAPE

A TAXI driver found guilty of raping a female passenger in the back of his cab also twice sexually assaulted a woman in her own home, a court has been told.

Robert McNeil Byrnes, 46, was in March found guilty by a jury of two charges of rape and two counts of indecent assault related to an attack on a woman in his taxi in Bendigo in the early hours of October 21, 2012.

Byrnes, of Bendigo, then pleaded guilty to a further five counts of indecent assault, related to incidents involving another two women, one of them a taxi passenger and the other a friend of his wife's, who he twice sexually assaulted when he visited the woman's home.

Prosecutor Neill Hutton said Byrnes had sexually assaulted a young woman who sat in the front seat of his taxi also on October 21, 2012.

The assault happened less than an hour before he picked up the passenger who he later raped.

Mr Hutton said that earlier that year, on a day between January and April, Byrnes visited the home of a woman he knew and sexually assaulted her while massaging her shoulders. He then assaulted her a second time after following her into a bedroom when she moved away.

Mr Hutton said on May 30, 2012, Byrnes again visited the woman's home to find she had just taken a shower. He forced her against the wall and sexually assaulted her, the court heard.

The woman persuaded Byrnes to leave when she convinced her attacker there were CCTV cameras inside her house and that she would show the footage to his wife, Mr Hutton said.

Judge Gerard Mullaly indicated to Byrnes' pre-sentence hearing he would likely impose a sizeable penalty, as the community needed to be sent a message that sexual assaulting women was intolerable and abhorrent.

Judge Mullaly also said a significant penalty awaited taxi drivers who took advantage of female passengers. Byrnes' trial was told the driver pulled into a car park before getting out of his taxi and opening the back seat of his cab to rape his passenger.

Defence counsel Philip Skehan said his client came across as a "simple man" who had a low IQ and an inability to empathise or read social cues from others.

"He is not so much a predacious character, he is more of a dill," Mr Skehan said.

The court heard a psychological report into Byrnes' character was limited in its findings and had only just been prepared, despite his trial concluding more than three months ago.

Byrnes, the court heard, was a man of good character, had always worked hard and always done everything he could for his three children and two stepchildren.

His family had already experienced "denunciation" from the community since the jury reached its verdict, Mr Skehan said.

Byrnes was remanded in custody to be sentenced on Thursday.

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