A PERVERT market trader terrified college students by sexually assaulting them on a bus.

Burnley Crown Court heard how pensioner Abdul Kazi targeted the girls, who were all under 18, on the main route from Accrington to Burnley.

Prosecuting, Lisa Worsley said two of the victims were touched and stroked by 66-year-old Kazi on two different occasions, while one of the girls was sexually assaulted with her boyfriend sitting next to her, oblivious to what was going on.

Recorder Neville Biddle sentenced Kazi to 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, but rejected Ms Worsley’s application to ban the defendant from using all forms of public transport, stating that it was “disproportionate to the crime”.

Ms Worsley said it was the last victim coming forward that led police to uncover Kazi’s 18-month campaign of sexual assaults on the M1 bus route.

Ms Worsley said the girl got on the bus at Accrington Bus Station and the defendant boarded at a later stop and sat behind her.

The victim felt something touch her left side but ‘thought the touching was accidental at first’. However the court heard Kazi carried on touching his teenage victim between her arm and breast.

The defendant then moved his arm down towards her waist and the victim realised the touching wasn’t accidental and texted and phoned a friend for help.

Having thought the touching had then stopped, the victim felt Kazi’s hand touching her again. The victim later went on to report the defendant to the bus driver and then the police, estimating Kazi had touched her seven times.

Ms Worsley said the incident was captured on CCTV and police used images from the footage to issue a press appeal, carried in the Lancashire Telegraph, in a bid to identify Kazi.

The defendant was identified and arrested in January and initially ‘made a full admission’ but later went onto deny the offence claiming he had been pressured by his solicitor and enticed by the prospect of the matter being dealt with out of court.

Ms Worsley said after the appeal two other victims came forward.

One said she recalled sitting on the M1 bus in a window seat and feeling contact with her back. Initially thinking it may have been her coat digging into her, the victim realised someone was touching and stroking her waist.

Ms Worsley said the assault carried on for 15 minutes but the victim was too scared to say anything. She did try sitting up but Kazi persisted. When she got off the bus she told her father what had happened.

A month later the victim was again assaulted by Kazi, who on that occasion stroked her hair and waist. Ms Worsley said Kazi’s behaviour continued as the victim tried to move.

She managed to take a photograph of him and sent it to her friends on Snapchat.

When she later went onto Facebook she recognised Kazi from the police appeal and sent the picture to PC Tom Archer.

Ms Worsley said the third victim was on the bus next to her boyfriend when she felt somebody touch her shoulder. She turned and faced Kazi but did not make an issue of it at the time.

However when Kazi repeated his behaviour on a separate occasion, placing pressure on the complainant’s left hip, she flinched and challenged him, before moving to another seat.

Ms Worsley said Kazi moved his hand away but said nothing.

The prosecutor said the victim reported the defendant to the bus driver and police but not much progress was made with the initial investigation. It was only when the victim saw the press appeal and again contacted police that charges were brought against Kazi.

When Kazi, of Water Street, Accrington, was arrested for a second time he accepted he was a regular user of the bus but said any touching would have been accidental.

However he was unanimously found guilty of five charges of sexual assault after a four-day trial.

In their victim impact statements all three complainants said they suffered anxiety and now feared getting on the bus and the prospect of seeing him again.

Defending, Steven Levine said his client had a stall on Burnley Market for 26 years but had lost his pitch after his conviction.

He said: “He is shamed in the business community. He is shamed in the general community. He is shamed in the mosque. This conviction is having a fundamental effect on his life.”

Kazi was made subject of a 10-year sexual harm prevention order, given a six-month curfew and told to complete 30 rehabilitation days.

Recorder Biddle said: “These young women were going about their lawful business and they can reasonably have expected to be allowed to travel on those buses unmolested.”