A man who molested a seven-year-old girl has been sentenced to spend a decade behind bars.

Shuja Muhammad, 40, was convicted earlier this year in the Supreme Court four counts of sexually exploiting the victim in two separate incidents between August and September last year.

His victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, took the stand during Muhammad’s trial, telling the jury Muhammad had taken her and a sibling to the Nine Beaches resort — and then, after she showered at home, exposed himself to her, as well as kissing and groping her.

Muhammad then whispered in her ear: “Don’t tell nobody or I’m going to get locked up”, the court heard.

The girl, who is now eight, informed her mother that evening but her mother told the court that she hadn’t initially reported the incident to police because she wanted to punish Muhammad herself and at one point had contemplated drowning him.

However the court heard that weeks later Muhammad touched the girl again at his home, an incident which ended when he was interrupted by her brother.

The police were contacted and Muhammad was subsequently charged, but he maintained his innocence through a Supreme Court trial.

Defence lawyer Kenville Savoury suggested that the victim had invented the story and argued that police had carried out a “sloppy investigation”, but Muhammad was convicted by a unanimous verdict on all four charges.

Muhammad was previously convicted in January of two similar charges in connection to another victim, but the court heard he is currently in the process of appealing that judgement.

According to those charges, Muhammad had touched a ten-year-old girl while in a boat, and attempted to kiss her on the mouth after she had turned 11.

During a sentencing hearing yesterday, prosecutor Nicole Smith called for a sentence of between eight and ten years, saying that Muhammad had been trusted by the family before the incidents and acted as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

She noted victim impact statements written by the victim, her mother and her brother, telling the court that Muhammad’s actions would have a lasting impact on the entire family.

Ms Smith added that there were absolutely no mitigating factors in Muhammad’s favour, noting that even after his conviction he has shown no culpability, maintaining his innocence when interviewed by Court Services.

Mr Savoury however argued that a sentence of between 18 months and three years would be more fitting, describing the defendant as a family man and active member of the community.

He further told the court that Muhammad’s time behind bars had already cost his family both emotionally and financially.

Muhammad himself declined the opportunity to speak on sentencing.

Delivering his sentence, Justice Carlisle Greaves noted the growing trend of sexual exploitation cases, saying: “It seems that there’s a potential epidemic out there in this jurisdiction and these courts must by robust effort make every attempt to stamp out this menace from our society.”

He said that Muhammad had earned the trust and respect of both the young victim and her family and had given no indication that he would betray their trust in the manner that he did.

In all of the circumstances, he argued that a sentence of at least ten years behind bars would be appropriate.

Mr Justice Greaves sentenced Muhammad to eight years behind bars for the first of the two incidents, accounting for the first three of the charges.

For the final charge, he sentenced Muhammad to another two years, ordering the sentence for that charge be served consecutively to the others as it was in relation to a separate incident.

-The Royal Gazette