A MAN has pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and robbing a 15-year-old girl outside a shopping centre on New Year’s Day.

Nassar Iqbal appeared before Judge Graham Knowles QC at Preston Crown Court where he also pleaded guilty to a third charge of engaging in sexual activity with a child.

Iqbal, 31, pleaded not guilty to a charge of rape and prosecutors decided against seeking a trial on it.

The court heard how the teenage victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was sexually assaulted and had her iPhone 7 Plus robbed close to the car park at Charter Walk, Burnley.

In the wake of the attack detectives issued an appeal seeking to speak to a man described as ‘tanned’ in connection with at what that stage they were treating as a rape investigation.

The description of Iqbal as being ‘tanned’ attracted criticism from controversial and outspoken former newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins.

After releasing a CCTV image of a man wearing a green jacket and jeans Iqbal was arrested and charged.

Iqbal had always denied the allegations against him and was due to stand trial on Monday.

But after prosecutors agreed not to proceed with the rape charge and instead add the engaging in sexual activity with a child count he pleaded guilty.

With the assistance of a Punjabi interpreter, Iqbal, of Castle Street, Nelson, spoke only to confirm his name and enter his guilty pleas.

Outlining the nature of the sexual assault offence, prosecuting Andrew Ford said: “He licked her ear, kissed her cheek and felt her chest.”

The case was adjourned for sentencing at Burnley Crown Court on July 18 for the probation service to assess the danger Iqbal poses to women and girls.

Mr Ford said the prosecution would be drawing up a sexual harm prevention order.

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Judge Knowles said: “You are remanded into custody to be brought up in the crown court in Burnley to be sentenced.

“I order a report on you from the probation service to consider how dangerous you are. And to inform the sentencing judge about your attitude to your offending, your background and other relevant matters.

“You will have the appropriate reduction in your sentence for pleading guilty at this late stage to a different and lesser offence than in the original indictment.”