‘Dangerous’ man dragged victim into city centre alley so he could assault her

A “dangerous” man dragged his victim from a city centre street towards a secluded alley so he could sexually assault her.

Dhani Punja, 42, claimed he only wanted to kiss the woman, who was walking in Liverpool in July last year.

But a judge ruled that the defendant intended to sexually assault the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

Recorder Tom Gilbart said: “This was a frightening and quite an outrageous attack on a woman on a street.

“This was a predatory act by you, seizing an opportunity to try and take advantage of this victim.”

Punja forced the woman off the city’s Lord Street, calling her a “f*** b*”.

A court heard that he only let go when faced with three security guards, before police arrive and he was arrested.

Punja admitted kidnap and kidnap with intent to commit a sexual offence and was jailed for five years at Liverpool Crown Court.

Recorder Gilbart said: “[The victim] was out in Liverpool city centre and was with several others in a bar drinking.

“She left to make her way home. As she made her way alone through the city centre she was looking at her mobile phone.

“You appeared and took hold of her with both of your hands. You moved the victim against her will across the street.

“You moved in the direction of a smaller darker street of passageway which was away from the main thoroughfare.

“As you did so you called the victim b* or a f* b**.

“Your intention was to commit a sexual assault on her once you had her in a more secluded place.”

Recorder Gilbart added: “In her statement she described trying to fight to get away but being unable to do so.

“She was shocked and frightened and feared for her safety.”

The court heard that three security guards nearby saw what was happening and intervened.

It was at this point Punja let go of his victim, and when police arrived he was arrested.

Recorder Gilbart said: “Police officers who arrived at the scene described her as looking very distressed and shocked. It’s no wonder.”

Gerald Baxter, prosecuting, detailed how the victim said she was now too frightened to go out on her own in a read statement.

Mr Baxter said: “She can’t go into Liverpool on her own because she thinks about ‘walking down Lord Street and past the alley where the man tried to pull me towards’.”

The woman said she “couldn’t imagine seeing that street again”, adding “I just couldn’t go to Liverpool city centre”.

The court heard the woman has been unable to sleep and “lies awake thinking about what happened.”

Mr Baxter said she is “unable to be independent and go to the shops on her own”.

Punja, of Stanley Street, Liverpool, has four previous convictions for four offences.

The court heard he previously sexually assaulted a woman on a train and lay on a shop floor to look up a woman’s skirt.

Recorder Gilbart, outlining the offences, said: “In 2005 you were convicted of outraging public decency when you lay on the floor of a shop in an effort to look up a woman’s skirt.

“In 2012 you were convicted of sexually touching a woman whilst she was travelling on a train.

“As a result of that conviction you were made the subject of notification requirements.

“You breached these requirements and were cautioned for that.”

Stuart Nolan, defending, asked the judge to consider the amount of partial credit that should be awarded for Punja’s guilty pleas.

Mr Nolan added: “Without alcohol misuse he appears not to be of significant risk.”

Recorder Gilbart noted that following his previous conviction for sexual assault Punja said he would “reduce his use of alcohol and address it”

But he has gone on to commit another sexual offence eight years later, he added.

Mr Nolan said: “It is also important to state at this point the previous conviction is some distance away – there have been elements of control over alcohol misuse.”

He asked the judge to consider the time Punja has served in custody during the pandemic and that he “indicates his remorse”.

Recorder Gilbart, sentencing, said: “This was a frightening and quite an outrageous attack on a woman on a street.

“You felt entitled to use force to kidnap her and you did so with the intention of committing a sexual offence. Your act was only foiled because of others.”

The judge added: “This was a predatory act by you, seizing an opportunity to try and take advantage of this victim.

“The victim was more vulnerable than she might have been because she was a lone woman at night who had drunk alcohol. This was a disgraceful offence.”

Referring to the victim’s personal statement Recorder Gilbart said: “She can’t face walking past the place where you did this.

“She struggles to sleep and spends time at her mother’s house because she feels unsafe in her own home.

“She feels she has lost the feeling of being an independent adult and she suffered from anxiety.”

The judge explained there was an issue with Nolan’s basis of plea, forcing the victim to relive the events in a Newton hearing – a form of mini trial based on the facts of a case which is also referred to as a ‘trial of issue’.

Recorder Gilbart said: “The crown’s case was you kidnapped the victim with the intent of raping her, your case was you kidnapped her with the intention of kissing her.”

The judge said: “The victim was upset in parts of evidence and couldn’t bring herself to watch CCTV footage of the incident.”

Following the hearing the judge accepted neither the prosecution case nor Punja’s and said there was an intent to commit a sexual offence.

The judge noted that the case is “mitigated by the fact you suffer from an identified mental disorder of alcohol misuse” and “to a small extent by your expressions of regret to the author of the psychiatric report”.

Judge Gilbart said Punja was a “dangerous” offender and jailed him for five years, with an extended two years on licence.

He was also ordered to sign the Sex Offenders Register for life.