A 70-year-old Christian healer, accused of groping three female patients, told a jury the women could have felt him touching them when he was not, because of a phenomenon called “phantom hands”.

Grey-haired George Boak admitted fondling one of the women, but said he considered she had invited him to be “familiar”. He said that he stopped and apologised immediately when he realised he had “misread the signs”.

Boak denied sexually touching the other women, during treatment sessions at his house in Lightcliffe, near Brighouse. Asked by his barrister, Michele Stuart-Lofthouse, why the complainants might say he had touched them, he replied: “They might feel a sensation that I was touching them when I wasn’t.”

Questioned by prosecutor Michael Smith, Boak said the phenomenon of phantom hands was well documented.

Boak, of Aysgarth Avenue, pleads not guilty to two charges of sexual assault and one of indecent assault.

The prosecution alleges he sexually touched the women, who were not known to each other, when they went to him for treatment for pain.

One of the women – a married mother-of-three – told the jury at Bradford Crown Court yesterday she tried to ignore it when he touched her indecently, and did not want to believe it had happened.

Boak told the court he had been a Christian healer for 25 years and his wife was always present in the house during treatment sessions.

He denied making personal comments to one woman about her being beautiful and stunning, and denied touching her indecently.

He said: “She may have sensed I was touching her. Healing has a thing called phantom hands, where I am not even touching them but they could feel my hands on a part of their body.”

He claimed the second woman was happy to be naked for the treatment, and that it had not been his suggestion. He admitted giving her a hug when she was naked but said there was nothing sexual in it.

He said he accepted touching her sexually on her last visit for treatment.

He told the jury: “She said to me if she had to choose between me and her husband, her husband would have to go. She said to me: ‘Go on and give it to me.’ I considered that an invitation to be familiar.”

Prosecutor Mr Smith suggested his defence about phantom hands “is a demonstration of your inability to face up to what you have done to these women.” Boak replied: “That’s not correct. I am not going to accept I have done something when I haven’t.”

The trial continues.