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Gloucestershire man who approached women along canal towpath sentenced

A 39-year-old flasher who approached women along a canal towpath and showed them notes asking them to expose their breasts has been jailed for 34 weeks and placed on the sex offenders' register for seven years.

Gloucester Crown Court heard on Wednesday (February 1) that Ashley Brown, of no fixed address, exposed himself on numerous occasions and startled women when he showed them notes saying 'Show me your breasts' or 'Show me your nipples'.

Brown had also been convicted of lighting a fire in the grounds of Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.

The court also heard that Brown, who has been remanded in custody since his arrest last October, has been on medication for mental issues which have now improved considerably and he is now talking normally - having previously been a 'selective mute' who only communicated in writing.

Prosecutor Neil Treharne explained that the sequence of events began in March 2022, when Brown entered the GL1 leisure centre in Gloucester to use the shower facilities, as he had done on a number of previous occasions.

"However when he went in that day he became involved in an argument during which he began shouting and swearing at the duty manager, who then decided to banned him from the premises," said Mr Treharne.

"Two days later, on March 31, Brown returns to the leisure centre and he was told that he had been banned from using the facilities. Brown then began shouting and swearing at the staff members and told them to get out of his way. He repeated his demands and stated that he didn't care if they called the police, which the staff did.

"Brown then stood very close to the staff members in the reception area and began glaring at them. In a frightening manner, Brown then walks around with his bag in his hand and momentarily leaves the centre before returning a couple of minutes later holding a pen in a clenched fist. The leisure centre staff believed this to be a screwdriver poking out of his fist.

"The police arrived shortly afterwards and arrested Brown. In his interview he remained silent when he was questioned."

Mr Treharne then told the court about Brown's next offence occurred just after midnight on July 12 when he was caught sleeping in a doorway at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.

He added: "Brown was asked to move from being outside the women's centre by a security officer just after midnight. He refused to leave and stayed where he was. He would only communicate by writing notes.

"Police attended the hospital at 2.11am and saw Brown making women staff feel uncomfortable in his presence and Brown agreed to move from the area as directed.

"However, the police were called back at around 4am and he was given a stiff warning by the officers to move completely away from the area.

"But at 5.30am that same morning, the police received another 999 call from the hospital stating that Brown had returned and was in the process of lighting a fire in front of security officers. Police again attended the hospital and arrested Brown."

The court then heard about the next set of offences that began at 5.45am on August 13, when Brown was being arrested for an unrelated alleged offence. And while he was being placed into a police van he places his hands down his trousers and begins masturbating himself in front of women officer who felt uncomfortable by this as his was staring at them in a piercing manner.

"Brown then pulls his manhood out where it can be seen in full view," said Mr Treharne. He then continues to masturbate himself while the van travels along the M5 until the police arrive at the constabulary's headquarters in Gloucester. Again, Brown exposes himself to custody staff and he also begins masturbating.

"When he is placed in a cell the police he is constantly observed. When women officers check on him, Brown he reacts by masturbating in front of them."

The next matters occurred on September 5, at around 4.50pm when a woman who was cycling alongside her partner who was running along a dedicated pathway, had stopped for a short break.

Mr Treharne added: "Brown approached the woman who noticed that he had a small can, which she believed to be pepper spray, with his index finger on the button having recognised it from watching television.

"She became very concerned, and his actions put this woman in fear of violence. The woman and her partner immediately left the area.

"However about 10 minutes later, at around 5pm, another woman riding a bike was using the same path while cycling home from work towards Stroud.

"As the Ryeford Bridge narrows, she stopped to let Brown pass. But as he approached her, he pointed a can of criminal identifier spray at around 30 centimetres away from her face. He didn't say anything to her and had blank facial expressions.

"The woman then pleaded with Brown not to point the can at her so she could pass. She had no success in this. She shouted for help. A motorist stopped momentarily but had to move because of the traffic. Luckily, a dog walker came to the woman's rescue and escorted the woman home.

"A short time later Brown was stopped by police and was found to be in possession of the can of criminal identifier spray. He was arrested and again made a prepared statement in which he denied pointing the spray at the woman."

The court was then told about the incidents on Monday, October 17, which occurred between 12noon and 3pm when Brown displayed hand written signs to lone women requesting them to show their breasts and nipples, causing them to fear alarm and distress.

Mr Treharne said: "It was around 12.50pm when the first victim was approached by the Gloucester -Sharpness Canal near the Saddlers Road area of Gloucester while out walking her dog.

"Brown showed her a sign that stated 'Show me your breasts' and then a second sign stating 'Show me your nipples' while he intently stared at her. The woman did not interact with Brown and said she was intimidated by his actions and was in fear of her safety.

"A short time later another woman was walking along the same canal with her dog, Brown held up the same signs to her. These had been held up with both hands to ensure that she saw them. She was alarmed by the incident that she quickly ran off. She has since changed her dog walking routine.

"At 1.10pm another woman reported Brown showing her the same signs on another bridge near Kestrel Gardens. The woman was shaken by this ordeal.

"At 1.16pm another woman, who was running along the canal path, was also challenged by Brown who had approached her and came within a metre of her and showed her the signs telling her to get her breasts out. She ran off and as she did, so she observed that Brown was still holding up the sign.

"At 2.20, Brown challenged another woman who was walking out with her 18-month old daughter in the area of Asda in Kingsway in Gloucester and was shown the two signs. As she walked away Brown began to follow her. The woman decided to walk at a faster pace, breaking into a run as Brown had begun to follower her as she was fearful of what he might do."

The final set of offences occurred on Tuesday, October 18, when a woman made a 999 call in which she described that a man had exposed himself to her and that he was naked from the waist down in the Rudge Hill area of Stroud. He had made no effort to cover himself.

"The police made a search of the area and found a tent close to the area in which Brown was eventually arrested. On the table next to the tent was a notepad with the offending signs within it.

"Brown exposes himself to police officers as he is being arrested. In his police interview, Brown initially denied approaching any women and exposing himself to them."

Sarah Jenkins defending Brown said: "In reality, these offences attract a community-based sentence. Brown states that his problems began when he was made homeless. He felt he was being victimised from the places he deemed to be safe. He also felt he was being dealt with in a heavy-handed fashion.

"Sadly, that feeling of victimisation should be measured alongside his mental health diagnosis over his sense of paranoia. He accepts that his mental health at the time of his offending was not in the best place because he was living off the streets.

"Brown has previously undergone mental health treatment and has recently been subject to a psychiatric examination. The medication he has received in prison has helped him recover his speech and has been fully engaging with me today. He has been remanded in custody since October last year and there would be some merit from a community-based sentence.

Brown admits using threatening behaviour with intent to cause fear of unlawful violence towards three people in Gloucester on March 31, 2022; Causing a nuisance/disturbance towards staff on NHS premises on July 12, 2022 at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital; two common assaults in Stroud on July 12, 2022; exposing his genitals on two occasions on August 13, 2022; two common assaults committed on September 5 this year; five charges of displaying visible representation with intent to cause harassment/alarm or distress on October 17, 2022 and two charges of indecent exposure on October 18, 2022.

The judge, Recorder Jaron Crooknorth, told Brown: "You are to be sentenced for 13 offences. Offences of this nature have been regarded as a nuisance. Not by this court. You have regularly scared loan women who now have become wary when they go out. You may not have physically assaulted these women, but you have scared them.

"I have taken into consideration your guilty pleas and your mental health issues, which has obviously had an impact on your offending."

The judge sentenced Brown to 34 weeks in prison and subjected him to seven-year sex offender registration.

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