Preston rapist 'thought girl was 16'

A teenager who admitted raping a 12-year-old girl he met on Facebook got a suspended jail term after a judge heard the victim lied about her age.

Junaid Bhuta, 19, from Frenchwood, Preston, contacted the girl through a friend's request on the website in April 2009.

Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court heard that the girl said she was 16 and the pair met and had sex.

Bhuta admitted statutory rape and received a suspended six-month term.

Bhuta, who wants to go to university to study law, was sentenced to six months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to sign the sex offenders register for seven years.

He pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a girl under 13 on 6 March at a park in Preston, on the basis that he believed she was 16 and had a "reasonable belief" that it was her true age.

The court heard that the girl put on her Facebook profile that she was leaving school this year to support her claim to be 16, but Judge Timothy Mort, passing sentence, said the defendant should have made more inquiries.

He said: "It doesn't seem to me to be fair to call you a predator or [say that] you groomed her.

"I think it is right to say she could pass for a 16-year-old and was able to speak relatively maturely."

Andrew Evans, prosecuting, told the court that after they had sex in the park, the pair went on a "date" to the cinema later the same day then Bhuta accompanied her for part of the journey home.

The court heard that the defendant bought her an adult train ticket home, which indicated he thought she was 16.

'Deliberately misled'

The girl was late home and when she arrived, she confessed to her mother what had happened.

She told police she wanted to lose her virginity to her husband on her honeymoon, "not some damp, wooded area in the middle of a park with a person I met on Facebook".

James Palfrey, defending, said: "This is a case which is particularly unique in its facts.

"He had been perhaps mischievously but deliberately misled, deceived by the complainant as to her age and actual identity. Had the defendant known her real age, we simply would not be here today."

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