In the Media

'Office cougar' jailed for preying on married men

PUBLISHED June 14, 2012

Software engineer Jeevani Wickramaratna, 44, spun a web of deceit, bombarding the men with sexually explicit messages, emailing their wives and even falsely claiming one man had HIV.

She was found guilty of sexual harassment and jailed for 26 weeks by District Judge David Parsons, who blasted her "complete fantasy world".

He said: "They trusted you and you abused that trust and during the trial you repeated the wicked allegations you made against each one of them and it is eminently clear that you are completely incapable of telling the truth."

Wickramaratna called herself a cougar, a term used to describe an older woman who pursues younger men.

She became infatuated with co-worker Paul Stokes after he emailed her offering her some of his birthday cake, and went on to besiege him with emails and Facebook messages, South Somerset Magistrates Court in Yeovil heard.

Christine Hart, prosecuting, said: "She claimed that Mr Stokes was having an affair with the office 'cougar', and many of the messages were sexually explicit and caused great distress to both him and his family.

"Wickramaratna then began sending him a series of messages saying she was setting him free and said she had told his family about their affair and that he loved her."

Further abusive Facebook messages were sent, including a false allegation that Mr Stokes had been diagnosed with HIV, all of which caused great humiliation.

The court heard that Mr Stokes insisted he had never had an affair with the defendant and when he reported the matter to the police in July 2010 an investigation began.

Miss Hart said: "The police contacted Wickramaratna telling her not to contact Mr Stokes, but she wrote back revealing explicit details of their affair that she believed had taken place and referred to herself as the cougar."

The defendant left the company, Portsmouth electronics firm Raymarine, and began working for communications firm Wimax, in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, owned by Kazeem Benzair and wife Joanne.

A few weeks later a colleague, Pir Khan, had a guest visiting who needed accommodation so Wickramaratna offered him her spare room and they exchanged telephone numbers.

But before the guest's arrival she was told that bed and breakfast accommodation had been found and her assistance was no longer required.

Miss Hart said: "Soon after Mr Khan received a message from the defendant asking if he would stop making uncomfortable gestures towards her and he replied saying he did not understand what comments she was referring to.

"A number of abusive messages were then sent but the defendant claimed they had been sent by her boyfriend Jeremy - a man whom the police were not able to ascertain even existed.

"She then reported Mr Khan to Mr Benzair for harassment and both parties were put on gardening leave from the firm."

When police went to Wickramaratna's home address to arrest her, she claimed she and Paul Stokes had a relationship - during which she created the persona of the "cougar".

She claimed she had been the one who was sexually harassed while working at Wimax and denied persistently contacting the Benzairs.

But during the subsequent investigation she sent 107 abusive emails to Mr Benzair and did not stop despite pleas by Mrs Benzair, who was suffering from a serious illness.

In a statement to the court Paul Stokes said Wickramaratna had put him and his wife "through hell" and her persistent communications had caused them considerable stress.

He said: "The hurtful stories that she concocted from her deranged imagination became more and more aggressive and led me to fear for the safety of my wife and children."

He said the threat of harassment continued and he still had to check his house at night and still found himself looking over his shoulder.

The victim also would not allow himself to be in a situation where he was unaccompanied with a female colleague and no longer used social networking sites.

Mr Benzair said he paid a solicitor £9,000 to deal with matters on his behalf at a loss to his business and said the stress had made his wife's serious medical condition worse.

He said: "We were bombarded with calls at work and home and had to change our telephone number and I was unable to sleep properly for many weeks."

Wickramaratna, of Buckingham, Bucks., pleaded not guilty to three allegations of harassment against Paul Stokes, the Benzairs and Mr Khan between June 1 2010 and October 17 2010, but was convicted of all counts after a trial.

The district judge said: "With regard to Paul Stokes you seriously risked damaging a happy and stable marriage and you caused him and his wife complete humiliation publishing degrading material on the internet causing them acute embarrassment.

"You accused him of having an affair and of having HIV and caused complete disruption in his place of work leaving a web of chaos.

"Then within days Pir Khan was subjected to your wicked lies which were so deplorable that he was suspended and had written warnings at work for something he had not done.

"Kazeem Benzair was damaged commercially and all this happened while his wife was seriously and possibly terminally ill.

"You persisted on sending people emails even after being warned by the police and have shown no remorse, empathy or regret. You live in a complete fantasy world."