A cyclist dubbed Brighton’s serial bottom slapper after terrorising lone women in a series of late-night assaults has been spared jail.

Constantin Barbutu would don a hoodie and ride up behind women who were walking, running or cycling alone before smacking or groping them, leaving them angry and living in fear.

The Romanian dish washer escaped a prison sentence when he appeared in Hove Crown Court on Friday because a judge felt he was so “severely intellectually impaired” he would not cope behind bars.

Initially denying 21 charges of sexual assault, Barbutu then pleaded guilty on the first day of his trial to crimes against 11 women.

Handing him a 12-month suspended sentence and ordering him to complete 40 days of rehabilitation with probation, Judge David Rennie said: “Were it not for the fact that two experts agree that you do have severely impaired intellectual functioning you would be going straight to prison today. However you do have these very real problems.

“What you chose to do to these 11 women who are complete strangers to you – you caused great fear, ongoing anguish. They were simply going about their business and they were fully entitled to be left alone.”

Constantin Barbutu court case
Constantin Barbutu leaves Hove Crown Court after sentencing (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Dressed in a green and white varsity bomber-style jacket and grey tracksuit trousers, the 22-year-old did not react as he listened to an interpreter relay the proceedings.

Barbutu first struck in September 2016 before carrying out a spate of attacks between the end of December that year and February 2017 while he was working in a shopping centre restaurant and living with his girlfriend in Hove.

Police launched an investigation after receiving more than 24 reports from women describing similar incidents across the East Sussex city.

He was arrested when a security guard spotted him targeting two women and – recalling press reports for appeals to track down the culprit – reported him to police.

Piers Reed, prosecuting, described his behaviour as a “campaign of sexual assault”, adding: “The defendant appears to have identified sole, individual females and approaches them on his bike. He is always on a bike, always wearing a hoodie up. The usual pattern is he strikes them on the bottom and rides off.”

His victims said in statements read to the court they felt unsafe in the city in the wake of the attacks.

One said she was “horrified” when Barbutu squeezed her on the bottom and then returned to do so a second time while she watched him circling her and “smirking”.

Another woman felt “angry and confused” and on discovering she had been targeted by a stranger added: “I was livid.”

A third said: “His behaviour was menacing and I was alone in a dark, isolated place where no-one would hear a scream.”

Due to “severe intellectual impairment” and difficulties with language, Barbutu has struggled to learn English after arriving in the UK with his girlfriend three years ago, the court heard.

Richard Elliott, defending, described Barbutu as “cripplingly shy” and frightened about coming to court, adding: “He is sorry for what he has done.

“Punishment will not help him. It will vindicate the public for what he has done but would not assist him in any way.”

The remaining 10 counts against him were left to lie on file.