Suspended sentence | 

Taxi driver who shared clip of couple engaging in sex act in back seat avoids jail

An awkward exchange follows at the end of the journey when the male passenger pays the £17.80 fare, plus a £2.20 tip, and the driver quips 'cheaper than a room'
Andrew Tortolani

Andrew Tortolani

Ralph Hewitt

The taxi driver accused of sharing a video showing a couple engaged in a sex act on the back seat of his car in a private WhatsApp group has been handed a suspended prison sentence.

Andrew Tortolani appeared before Craigavon Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

The 55-year-old, from Sandringham in Portadown, pleaded guilty to the improper use of a public communication network on July 18, by sending a “message or other matter was indecent”.

The charge relates to an incident that month when videos recorded from a dash cam were circulated on social media depicting a man and a woman in the back seat of a Belfast taxi engaging in a prolonged sexual act.

In the video, Tortonlani, who was wearing a Value Cabs uniform, appears to keep his eyes on the road throughout most of the journey while the couple begin kissing before engaging in a sex act.

Andrew Tortolani

Andrew Tortolani

An awkward exchange follows at the end of the journey when the male passenger pays the £17.80 fare, plus a £2.20 tip, and the driver quips “cheaper than a room” before chuckling to himself.

Three clips of the incident, two at around a minute long and one lasting 20 seconds, were shared widely online.

Despite pleas from the PSNI not to share the footage, the videos went viral and the male involved told police it was shared without his consent.

The male passenger later said both he and the female were subjected to hateful comments.

Value Cabs confirmed in July that the company sacked the self-employed taxi driver after the matter was reported to the PSNI.

Outlining the facts of the case to the court, a PPS lawyer explained police received a report on July 19 from the female injured party that a taxi driver had shared videos of her and her date “being intimate in the back of a taxi”.

Following her date with the male on July 18, the female received the three videos of her and the male the next day engaging in “sexual foreplay” from a friend, who had received them elsewhere.

“It became apparent the videos had been shared widely, indeed reaching globally, and maintaining a considerable notoriety online,” added the PPS lawyer.

“Both passengers claim not to have known they were being filmed and had not given permission to be shared with anyone.”

Tortolani was arrested by the PSNI on July 26, and confirmed no-one else had control of the footage.

He stated he had sent the videos to a private WhatsApp group of 10 friends without any expectation that the footage would be forwarded on and that he did not intend to cause any distress.

A defence solicitor for Tortolani said both he and his children have been subjected to online abuse since the videos were released, and that his 30-year career as a taxi driver is now over.

“The footage itself is serious and is shocking,” added his solicitor. “His culpability is limited to the first dissemination - not to the world at large. He never intended to cause anyone distress.”

Sentencing Tortolani, Deputy District Judge McCourt said he was saved from a custodial prison sentence due to his relatively clear record.

Andrew Tortolani

Andrew Tortolani

He added that Tortolani has learned that social media, while “very good”, is also “very bad” because no matter how discreet you may intend to be, someone will always share your content.

“That’s your downfall in the sense that you put it amongst a few people that you knew,” stated Judge McCourt.

“It seems clear you couldn't have trusted them because they then spread it around and it has gone everywhere, causing harm and distress to the people involved.

“It’s caused great difficulty for you in your job and your reputation and that of your family.

“Taking all of that into account, I still cannot overlook the fact that you put it on social media.

“Once you press play or distribute it then you have no control over it and that’s what’s happened to you and that’s what happens to many, many people who come into breaking the law - using electronics in that way.”

Judge McCourt sentenced Tortolani to two months in prison, suspended for two years, and issued a £350 fine.

He added that people who share explicit content on social media “deserve to go to prison” but gave him credit for his record, his guilty plea and the difficulty it has caused in his employment.

“[The sentence] reflects the seriousness of it for anybody else, not just for you, because if somebody else does this in any shape or form or misuses communications in this way, they're going to face prison,” stated Judge McCourt.

“What’s saving you is a very limited record.”

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