Shop attendant allegedly used cigarettes to groom teenager | The Courier

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Police allege a Ballarat tobacco shop worker regularly gave cigarettes to an underage teenager to groom her for sex. Accused man Kashif Iqbal, 48, made an application for bail at the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday after he was arrested when the complainant made disclosures to her friend. Iqbal is charged with sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16, encouraging a child under 16 to participate in sexual activity and grooming a child under 16 for sexual intercourse. The police informant said the ‘vulnerable’ complainant had been going to the Free Choice Tobacconist in Ballarat Central three times a week since February in an attempt to purchase cigarettes from Iqbal. Police allege Iqbal allowed the complainant to purchase cigarettes from him to gain her trust despite it being illegal to sell cigarettes to a person under 18. A police informant said Iqbal started to ask for fist bumps, hugs and kisses from the complainant in return for free cigarettes from August 2021 to ‘see what was possible to get from her’. He said detectives were continuing to review a large amount of CCTV footage from the store, but footage from one day in December showed Iqbal supplying cigarettes to several other teenagers in school uniform. The court heard the complainant entered the store last week and Iqbal allegedly began questioning her about sexual matters. The police informant said the complainant told Iqbal she was 15-years-old and when she asked for a cigarette he said ‘what are you going to do for it?’. He said the complainant said ‘sex’ and Iqbal told her to wait for him in the back storeroom. CCTV footage shows Iqbal locked the entrance to the store and walked to the rear storeroom, but there was no CCTV cameras in the storeroom Iqbal took the complainant to. Police allege Iqbal raped the complainant. She later left the store crying. The court heard the complainant went to a friend’s house and disclosed she had been raped. The friend took her to hospital and police were called. The police informant said CCTV footage obtained from the store supported the complainant’s allegations. “The accused does not have any prior recorded criminal convictions but police believe his offending has gone largely unnoticed due to the predatory nature whereby he has built trust in the complainant,” he said. “Intelligence shows young people have regularly attended the store to purchase tobacco illegally since June 2020.” Iqbal was remanded in custody on January 7. “Police believe the predatory nature of the accused’s offending could result in further victims being put at serious risk should he be released,” the police informant said. “The nature of this pattern of grooming indicates other potential victims will be reluctant to come forward to report the accused as they benefit from receiving cigarettes, sometimes free of charge. “A term of imprisonment is likely. These crimes are among the most serious levels of offending. Police believe this type of offending causes victims to experience lifelong negative mental and emotional effects.” Police raised concerns Iqbal was a flight risk. He was born in Pakistan and lived in Abu Dhabi for 20 years before moving to Australia four years ago and had boxes packed at his house. He is not a permanent citizen or resident of Australia. Defence lawyer Adrian Paull said the allegations were disputed. He questioned the informant about the evidence and police’s belief Iqbal was a flight risk. He said Iqbal had family ties to Australia and lived in Melton with his wife and four children and his wife’s parents. Iqbal’s brother-in-law gave evidence to the court he would support him on bail and provide a $10,000 surety. Mr Paull said Iqbal’s passport could be surrendered to police and he could be excluded from visiting the Ballarat region and working at the tobacco shop as a condition of bail. “There is currently no forensic evidence and no CCTV footage that depicts any of the acts alleged. The matter is contested and at this stage there is a delay,” he said. The case was adjourned to continue on Wednesday. If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat’s story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.


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