The rape of a 12-year-old girl at a south Manchester park was the start of a gang’s ‘relentless’ Facebook grooming campaign – now four men have been jailed
The rape of a school girl at a south Manchester park was the start of a gang’s ‘relentless’ grooming campaign orchestrated on Facebook.
Just 12-years-old, the child was repeatedly attacked in Crowcroft Park in Levenshulme, a court heard.
The man responsible went on to target other youngsters.
The victims were bombarded with messages on social media as men tried to persuade them to meet up for sex, Manchester Crown Court was told.
An investigation – Operation Enfield – was only triggered in December 2017 when a friend of the victim, who had also been targeted, confided in a care worker.
Police have now been able to identify three victims who were abused by four men.
Two of the victims were in care, one in a children’s home and the other with foster parents. The others lived at home.
Operation Enfield is still ongoing. Detectives believe there are other victims.
Trees and bushes at the park have been cut back – and benches removed – to make it more open. Police hope it will stop gangs operating there.
Brothers Sebastian Baltatu, 18, and Ilie Daniel Baltatu, 22; and cousins Parizian Calin, 20, and Adrian Calin, 20, have now been locked up for more than 25 years.
Judge Suzanne Goddard described their behaviour as ‘appalling’; said the men ‘knew what they were doing’ and that ‘sexual offending had become normalised’ in the group.
Other members of the grooming gang have fled abroad. They are still being hunted.
Victim impact statements read in court told the emotional stories of the anxiety and shame victims have felt since the abuse.
One of the girls said: “No words can explain what I was put through.
“At the time, I had no idea why it happened. My anxiety was getting worse and I hated being left on my own.
“Now I can’t even go in my corner shop without being anxious or scared anymore. The impact this has had on my life has been unbelievable.”
Another said she had been through ‘the worst time of her life’ and felt like she was ‘completely taken advantage of’.
She added: “I feel sick when I think about what these people were doing. I think there might be even more victims that we don’t know about.”
The court heard how the defendants were close friends who spent time as a ‘gang’ around Levenshulme.
Members of the group, all originally from Romania, exploited the ‘vulnerable’ girls, who were all looking for friendships and ‘people to be close to’.
One victim – who was 12 at the time the abuse started – was raped by Sebastian Baltatu at Crowcroft Park before being raped a number of other times by Parizian Calin.
Parizian Calin took her to a ‘brothel house’ in Levenshulme and tried to have sex with her, before sending another Romanian man into the room straight afterwards to ask her for sex again.
Sebastian Baltatu and Parizian Calin are now fathers.
“Parizian Calin would persistently ask the victim for sex and would be pestering her on social media,” prosecutor Jonathan Savage told the court.
“On one occasion, after having sex with her on the park, he told her to wait where she was and then another man came in and asked her to perform oral sex on him.
“On another occasion, she was taken to a house by Parizian Calin. She refused to have sex with him.
“Moments later, a man she had never seen before who she thought was also Romanian came into the room and asked her for oral sex.
“The sexual demands from Parizian Calin were relentless.”
Another girl, who was under the age of 13, was preyed on by Ilie Baltatu – who is known as Daniel – before he incited her to engage in sexual activity.
“This girl said she was in a relationship with Daniel,” the prosecutor said.
“He had sex with her on three occasions.”
Adrian Calin incited a 15-year-old to engage in sexual activity when he picked her up in his car on one occasion, the court heard.
“This victim became friends with Daniel on Facebook. She would receive messages from him regularly”, the prosecutor added.
“She came to Adrian Calin and Parizian Calin through Daniel.
“Adrian Calin was keen to meet up with the girl and one on occasion he asked her to perform oral sex on him.”
Sebestian, Parizian and Adrian all denied the offences, but were found guilty after a trial . Daniel pleaded guilty from the outset.
In mitigation, Jaime Hamilton said his client Parizian Calin had one only previous conviction for theft and at his age, a prison sentence would be ‘difficult to serve’.
He also told the court how his client had a partner and a young daughter.
John Richards argued that because Sebastian Baltatu was only 14 at the time his committed the offence, he was ultimately ‘groomed himself’.
“When he raped his victim, his co-defendants had said to him ‘well done brother’,” Mr Richards said.
“They effectively encouraged him to take part.”
Sebastian, who has children, was convicted of causing serious injury by dangerous driving and failing to stop in 2018.
He was handed a detention and training order for 22 months, the licence period of which is due to start in October this year.
Defending Daniel Baltatu, who has one previous conviction for theft, Nicole Gatto said her client was ‘remorseful’ and has taken a ‘high level of responsibility for his actions’.
Passing sentence, the Judge Goddard said: “All four of these defendants are due to be sentenced for their exploitative behaviour.
“All are members of the Romanian community in Manchester. Many of your family members and friends from that community have been present during this court case.
“I hope that each of you will reflect on this appalling behaviour and will consider how this abuse can be controlled within their community.
“Other members of the group have fled abroad and are still being searched by the police.
“Each of the victims have shown considerable bravery in coming forward. When one considers the difficult childhood that each has had it’s understandable why they came looking for friendships.
“None of these girls bare any responsibility. All of the girls had to move away from Manchester and from their family and friends because of you and what you did.
“Each of those girls were particularly vulnerable because of their difficult childhood and their time in care. If each of you had tried to get to know them you would have known that.”
Ilie Daniel Baltatu, of HMP Manchester, was sentenced to eight years for one count of grooming; three counts of sexual activity with a child under 16; child abduction; one count of inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity; and one count of sexual assault of a child under 13.
Sebastian Baltatu, of Her Majesty’s Young Offender Institution Wetherby, was jailed for three years in a young offender institution for one count of rape of a child under 13.
Adrian Calin, of Reynell Road, Levenshulme, was sentenced to a year in a young offender institution for one count of inciting a child under 16 to engage in sexual activity.
Parizian Calin, of Slade Lane, Levenshulme, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for five counts of rape of a child under 13; two counts of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sexual offence; one count of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity; and one count of sexual assault on a child under 13.
The men were ordered to sign the sex offender register. Parizian and Ilie (Daniel) were made the subjects of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
‘These victims have shown the utmost bravery’
Supt Rebecca Boyce, of GMP’s City Divsion, said: “We believe it is part of a sophisticated grooming operation by males operating in that area. We do believe there are other victims.
“These victims have shown the utmost bravery by giving evidence and we cannot underestimate the courage and strength it takes for victims of these abhorrent crimes to come forward.
“The 12-year-old was the first victim and she was raped almost every time she went to that park to meet the males – on one occasion in a house.
“She was moved away from the area and the offending stopped against her, then the offending by this group has started against another set of victims.
“The 12-year-old has then moved back to Manchester and was raped on a further occasion.
“We are actively investigating other possible offenders.
“We had a report from one girl to a professional care worker – that was the trigger. Then were started to look at who her friends were and see if we could get any information from them. That helped us identify a second victim.
“Then the victim who was 12 at the time came forward later on.
“They were vulnerable by the nature of their age. It tends to be young people being exploited because of multiple vulnerabilities in their background. Mainly by age, but also by having quite chaotic backgrounds.
“I believe this group were targeting young girls because of their age. They are susceptible to a barrage of grooming of attention and wanting friends.
“We would like to thank the victims. For girls this young, this vulnerable, having gone through the trauma that they experienced to find the courage to attend a trial, we think its quite remarkable.
“It takes a lot of support, rapport building, and relationship building with police and social workers in order to get to a point where the victims feel strong enough to give evidence.
“There will be post trial support that will have to be in place for a number of years because of the trauma they have suffered.
“Because they are being systematically targeted by more than one male they eventually go a long with it. It is not something they want to do. They go a long with it because they are targeted over and over again and asked for sexual activity.
“On the back of this case we would like to encourage any other victims of sexual exploitation to come forward. They will be supported. They will undergo therapeutic care.
“They will be believed and there will be support within the criminal justice system for them.
“We don’t need a victim’s account to pursue offenders for child exploitation. If we obtain intelligence from members of the public and a victim does not feel strong enough to disclose for us we will pursue – we are not reliant on victim accounts.”
The case and others has resulted in the setting up of a complex safeguarding hub operating from Greenheys Police Station.
It investigates child sexual exploitation and is made of police officers, children’s services, adult services, health, and youth offending staff, all working together.
Police worked closely with the Romany and Romanian communities within south Manchester to avoid any backlash against them in the wake of the case, Supt Boyce said.
She added: “We asked the neighbourhood teams where there are Romany and Romanian communities to be patrolling in those areas , talking to members of that community.
“We briefed councillors in advance in case any of their constituents raised issues with them.
“We have put measures in place to ensure there is no backlash against those communities. These are four individuals that have committed these crimes – they are not representative of their wider community – they are four individuals within that community.”
Crowcroft Park, identified as the centre of the grooming operation, has been the subject of a ‘crime reduction assessment’.
Trees and hedges have been cut back and benches removed make it more open. It has been regularly patrolled by officers.
“As a result there have not been reports of this kind of offending in the park,” Supt Boyce said.
“But it is something that will monitor. We are determined that parks like this will not be places where this type offending takes place,” said Supt Boyce