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Romanian man (37) accused of grooming and raping 15-year-old girl

Armagh Courthouse

A Romanian national accused of grooming and raping a 15 -year-old girl has been denied bail as children were believed to reside at the address put forward by his defence.

Court heard the 37-year-old was also felt to be a flight risk as his heavily pregnant wife resided back in his native country.

Stefan Bighiu, of Lisanally Lane in Armagh, appeared charged with false imprisonment and two counts of rape at the City’s Magistrates’ on Tuesday, via videolink, from Maghaberry.

The case was listed for the purpose of a bail application, with this defendant previously being denied bail at Newry Magistrates’ on September 18 due to not being able to put forward a suitable bail address as well as being a flight risk.

Prosecution outlined the case, stating that on March 7 police were contacted by the injured party’s mother after her 15-year-old daughter had failed to attend work experience.

She was later informed, by two friends of her daughter, that she had gone to a flat in Armagh with two foreign nationals.

Police located the injured party near the bus station in Armagh and spoke to her.

She alleged that she had engaged in sexual intercourse with two males at an address on Lisanally Lane in Armagh and gave a description of the the two men.

Officers attended an address in Lisanally Lane and spoke to three male occupants, two of which matched the descriptions given.

Both men were booked and taken into custody. Following caution Bighui told police: “I didn’t take her by force”.

Prosecution stated that during interview both men made admissions to the offences.

An Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview was conducted with the injured party and Social Services believed she had been groomed by the two men.

Prosecution confirmed that the co-accused was currently on bail with numerous bail conditions.

She stated: “The objection to bail is centred around the address; the address is considered as unsuitable by police with a number of checks leading them to believe children are living there.

“It is also believed that the defendant would be a flight risk. He is a Romanian national and police describe him as having a transient lifestyle.”

It was also outlined by the prosecution that Bighiu’s heavily pregnant wife was in Romania and there were also concerns over interference with witnesses, given the Social Services indication of grooming being involved.

A constable gave evidence stating: “I have been told that one male lives at the address. I have not been able to speak to him but upon speaking to residents in the street, it is believed three children reside there.

“We have also been informed that people do not tend to stay at that address for more than a few months.”

Defence counsel said: “My strongest point would be that the co-accused has been on bail for some time; my understanding is that there is no child at this address and he is willing to abide by any conditions.

“He has been here for the last year or two. He had to leave his job and wishes to resume work in order to send money back to his pregnant wife in Romania.”

He continued: “Forensics in this case were supposed to be in for July; we were then told it would be September and it is now expected in December.

“He has been in custody since May and it is not known when this case will be dealt with.”

District Judge Paul Copeland stated: “Bail is refused, there is no acceptable place of abode for this defendant; there is a strong indication that children are living at this address and there are very strong child protection issues in this case.

“I am also satisfied that there is a significant flight risk. This man has no or very limited record of a fixed abode in Northern Ireland.

He added: “He has strong family ties and draws to Romania. Police also have concerns he will interfere with witnesses in a case which may well involve grooming for sexual purposes.”

The case was adjourned for an update on November 12.

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