January 2021

Co Down sex assault survivor shocked to find attacker working in Tesco

A sex assault survivor has described her shock after discovering her attacker working in Tesco.

Abbi Lawther, 22, from Co Down, spotted convicted sex offender Simon Cash in a Tesco store working on the tills.

The Donaghadee man secured a job with Tesco after he was released from HMP Maghaberry late last year after being sentenced to 18 months, with nine months spent in jail and the remainder on licence.

The conditions of his sentence mean he is able to live in the community and work while on licence, but if he was to break the law, he would be sent back to jail to complete the rest of his sentence behind bars.

It is understood Cash has not come to the attention of the authorities since his release but the woman he attacked has urged Tesco to move him from the front-line job and away from the public at least until his sentence is completed.

Cash, a bearded former nursing student from Donaghadee, was convicted in 2018 of two sex assaults against beautician Abbi Lawther, 22. A third offence was left on the books

He was ordered to serve nine months in jail and the remainder of his sentence in the community on licence. Now he is serving customers as a till worker in the retail giant.

Cash’s victim spotted him working the Tesco’s tills earlier this month in an encounter she described as “shocking”.

Abbi struggled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts after the attacks in Bangor in December 2018, however counselling and family support have helped her cope.

She said: “I’ve been doing well and working hard to deal with what happened to me and until recently I’d been having more good days in a week than bad days.

“But seeing Simon cash was a terrible shock. I’ll never forget his face and I couldn’t believe we were suddenly looking at each other while he was serving customers. The last time I’d seen him he was being sentenced to time in jail for attacking me.

“I was with a friend buying a magazine and some wine in Tesco when I saw him. He was wearing a Tesco uniform and a dark face mask, and was sitting at an end till serving a customer.

“I knew one day I’d see him but I assumed it would be in the street, not with him working in a family shop

“I just couldn’t believe it. He looked at me and I just turned and left. I was shaking and I felt very upset.

“I know he served nine months in jail for what he did to me, and he must do nine months on licence to complete the sentence given to him.

“But what I just don’t get is how a convicted sex offender on licence can be the best candidate for a job at Tesco when we hear of so many people looking for work with them without success.

“And why have Tesco chosen to place him on the front-line where he’s handling customers’ shopping and speaking directly to them? He is still serving a sentence for sexual assault.

“I do understand that prisoners need to rehabilitate, and despite being a sex offender Simon Cash still has to live in the same world I live in, and he has to somehow find a way to make a living. In fact I’d rather he worked somewhere rather than have my taxes pay for his dole money.

“But why not have him away from the general public, or at least off the tills until his licence period is up?

“He has to work somewhere but surely there are more suitable roles where he’s less likely to bump into his victim.

“When I saw him he was scanning groceries for a woman customer, I honestly felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I wanted to shout to her and tell her but I knew I had to hold my own dignity and I walked away.”

Cash’s conviction and his place on the Sex Offences Register until 2030, scuppered his plans of a career in nursing.

His attack on victim Abbi Lawther happened while he was on a Christmas break from studying at Dundee University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.

The then 22-year-old had latched onto a group of friends in Betty Black’s nightclub in Bangor and sexually assaulted Abbi, who was a stranger to him, outside the premises and inside a taxi.

Footage of him targeting her in a taxi had been captured on CCTV and his DNA was found in the taxi, on his victim and her clothes.

Cash was convicted of sexual assault and sexual assault by penetration against Abbi and initially sentenced to 100 hours community service and three years probation.

On March 6, 2020 Cash was jailed for 18 months, half of it in HMP Maghaberry in the sex offenders’ wing and nine months on licence – and he was placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years.