January 2011

Rapist walks free as judge agrees girl, 12, looked 16

A convicted child rapist who claims he believed a 12-year-old girl he raped was 16 has been given a conditional discharge by top judges.

Disgraced Junaid Bhuta, 19, from Manchester Road, Frenchwood, Preston, met the youngster on Facebook before meeting up with her in March 2010.

They met and had sex in a park in Penwortham before going on a date at a Preston cinema.

Bhuta then bought her a train ticket home to Greater Manchester.

After admitting rape in May 2010, he was given a six-month suspended jail term by Judge Timothy Mort, sentencing at Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court, who agreed it was right the victim could pass for 16.

However, Bhuta took his case to the Court of Appeal where three judges ruled the sentence was too harsh. The conditional discharge means if he goes a year without committing any other offence, the rape conviction will be removed from his record.

Gill Gibbons, chief executive officer of CROP (Coalition for the Removal of Pimping) said it was “very disappointing” and added: “We need to make sure those who are exploiting young people are convicted and prosecuted properly.”

South Ribble MP Conservative Lorraine Fullbrook MP described the case as “unbelievable” and vowed to bring it to the attenion of Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

She said: “I’m appalled, as any right minded member of public will be. Something has clearly gone seriously wrong with the system. My thoughts are with the girl and her family. I would urge all parents to be aware of the dangers the internet can present to their children.”

Judge Warwick McKinnon, sitting with Lord Justice Leveson and Mr Justice Sweeney, said the case was “unusual” and agreed that the punishment was too harsh.

He told the court Bhuta, then 18, met the girl online in January last year, and started speaking to her on the phone.

James Palfrey, for Bhuta, told the court his client had no idea the girl was so young.

He said her Facebook page was misleading, she looked older and acted more maturely than her 12 years.

He said the judge at the trial mistakenly believed the pair had known each other longer than they had, and gave Bhuta a “manifestly excessive” sentence. Bhuta, who sat at the back of the court with his family, wept at the decision.