Sex offender has jail term doubled but is living free in Albania, court told

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A man who tried to rape a Cambridge University student has had his jail term more than doubled by Court of Appeal judges – but is living free in Albania after being deported early.

Baftjar Bilalaj, 25, attacked the young woman in a park as she returned to her college after a night out in October 2021.

In November last year, a judge at Peterborough Crown Court jailed Bilalaj for three years and four months after a jury found him guilty of attempted rape and sexual assault.

Solicitor General Michael Tomlinson later sought to have his jail term increased, arguing it was unduly lenient, but was unaware Bilalaj had been voluntarily deported under an early release scheme in January.

At a hearing in London on Friday, senior judges increased Bilalaj’s total sentence to seven years, but noted their ruling may be an “empty gesture” unless he is arrested in Albania.

Lady Justice Macur, who considered the case with Mr Justice Fraser and Mr Justice Cavanagh, said the original sentencing judge “failed to have sufficient regard to the aggravating features” in the case – including the victim being young, alone, and “obviously intoxicated”.

She said Bilalaj was voluntarily deported on January 25 under a scheme which meant he was no longer in custody in Albania.

The earliest date for his release in the UK would have been May 25 this year, the judge said.

“We come to the conclusion that this sentence was unduly lenient and that public confidence should be restored,” she added.

Crown court stock
A general view of Peterborough Crown Court (Chris Radburn/PA)

The barrister said it needed to be explored with the Home Office and authorities in Albania “whether increasing his sentence would have any impact upon his status in that country”, adding: “the truthful answer is we just do not know”.

Mr Jarvis said the victim’s family “are, to put it mildly, unhappy that the situation has developed in the way that it has”.

The barrister argued Bilalaj’s original sentence “fell significantly below what it should have been”, highlighting that the victim was “particularly vulnerable” at the time of the offence.

The AGO said in written submissions to the court that Bilalaj only stopped in his attack on the young woman “because he was disturbed by the sound of someone else in the park”.

The office also said the victim was left having “frequent nightmares” and had “lost trust in other people”.

It added: “She used to be a happy and confident person but not anymore.”

Tasmin Malcolm, representing Bilalaj, argued his sentence was not unduly lenient and that his attack had not been a “targeted” offence.

The barrister said Bilalaj was “at liberty” in Albania, but that he was “not unlawfully at large”.

Lady Justice Macur told the court that Bilalaj’s situation was “hardly an attractive state of affairs” and that “nobody at the Home Office consulted with anybody at the Ministry of Justice”.

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