A “KIND and gentle” man has wept in court after being cleared of an alleged Lakes hotel hot tub sex assault.

Paul Anthony Hardy, 31, went on trial at Carlisle Crown Court earlier this week.

A father and man of good character, Mr Hardy vehemently denied an allegation that he groped a woman at a hotel while on a romantic break with his girlfriend.

A jury heard Mr Hardy and his partner invited another couple they had met while staying at the Bowness-on-Windermere hotel back to their room after dining together.

All continued to “laugh, drink and sing” into the early hours of February 14 last year.

It was while all were “squeezed together” in a small, heart-shaped hot tub that Mr Hardy was alleged to have sexually touched the other man’s partner without consent.

But Mr Hardy denied committing any crime. He described being startled by passionate kissing between the two females, “flirting” between him and the other woman, and told jurors: “I felt like it was going to lead to something, the four of us getting it on. Like an orgy.”

Mr Hardy admitted briefly making sexual contact with the woman who, he maintained, hadn’t pushed his hand away and was “smiling at me the whole time it was going on”.

But after “a couple of seconds” he stopped, recalling: “It felt awkward. It didn’t feel right.”

When it was suggested by a prosecutor he had no consent for the touching, Mr Hardy insisted: “She gave me the vibes, yes, 100 per cent.”

His fiancée, Bethany Graham, also gave evidence. “I don’t think an orgy would have taken place, but that was the vibes,” she told jurors. “It was very sexual. It was a sexual vibe.”

Of the allegation made against her partner, Miss Graham said: “He’s kind, soft and gentle. He would never do that.”

Mr Hardy, of Ashbrooke Estate, Shotton Colliery, near Peterlee, wept in the dock and mouthed “thank you” to jurors after they found him unanimously not guilty of the allegation after deliberating for around an hour.

Judge Nicholas Barker responded by saying: “Mr Hardy, you can leave the dock and leave the court if you wish.”