London - Five victims who suffered at the hands of another Rotherham grooming gang have received justice – up to two decades after their appalling ordeals.
One woman told of having sex with ‘100 Asian men’ by the age of 16, while another was gang-raped as a teenager by three men in a forest after being plied with cannabis.
On Monday at Sheffield Crown Court, seven men were found guilty of a total of 24 sex crimes committed between 1998 and 2005. The victims, now in their 30s, were given drugs and alcohol and passed around between young men of Pakistani heritage to be raped and sexually assaulted in the South Yorkshire town.
Since 2010, dozens of men and two women have been convicted over sex crimes in Rotherham.
The fear of being labelled racist meant the authorities did little to tackle the abuse. But a devastating official report, ordered after a newspaper investigation, has meant the criminals are gradually being brought to justice. The National Crime Agency is set to spend £90million by 2024 on the Rotherham-based Operation Stovewood. A 250-strong team will investigate sex abuse crimes from 1997 to 2013.
The latest case involved five girls as young as 13 suffering ‘degrading and violent’ acts. The men would drive around town in their ‘flash’ cars and target girls from problem homes hanging around late at night outside a supermarket.
At first, the girls believed the men were their ‘boyfriends’ and thought they were in ‘love’. But that changed as the grooming progressed to brutal abuse. If they didn’t comply to sexual demands, the men turned violent.
The girls were driven to remote locations or empty homes with no electricity to be raped and assaulted, the court heard. The men would threaten to dump them in the middle of nowhere if they didn’t agree to depraved demands and one girl was abandoned on the M1 motorway.
One girl was raped or assaulted by seven of the defendants at different times, the court heard.
In 2002, the then 15-year-old went with her mother to report an abduction and beating to police. The victim later reported being raped by one defendant in a country park. But a police investigation into this alleged rape ended without a file being sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The jury returned a not guilty verdict relating to this incident.
Outside court, the victim’s mother criticised the police’s failure to act at the time.
She told the Daily Mail: ‘I just don’t think they were interested. They couldn’t be bothered.’
Another woman told the court: ‘I can honestly say that, by the age of 16, I had slept with 100 Asian men, some I didn’t see again. As soon as you get to know them, your number gets passed around. Asian lads demanding to meet you, then you meet a new group and it went on like that.’
She fell pregnant at 14 by Mohammed Akhtar and gave birth at 15. He then abandoned her. Her childhood was ‘snatched away,’ she said, adding: ‘We were children one minute and adults the next.’
Another recalled being raped at 14 by three of the men in a forest while ‘high as a kite’ on cannabis. She was warned to do as she was told or be left there.
Michelle Colborne QC, prosecuting, said: ‘Each defendant took turns having sex with her. She was not freely consenting.’ The girl fell pregnant and was forced to have an abortion by her parents. ‘She suffered a great deal of psychological trauma,’ said Miss Colborne.
Two victims – sisters from a broken home – lived with their grandfather, who asked social services for help. They were taken to an empty house and factory with mattresses on the floor. Akhtar had sex with one sister, while Tanweer Ali abused the other in a separate room. ‘The sisters, like so many others, were easy to exploit because of their need to be loved,’ said Miss Colborne.
The Operation Stovewood team in Rotherham is investigating 426 people, while 296 out of a potential 1,500 victims are ‘engaging with officers’. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is examining misconduct allegations against police who failed to protect schoolgirls and expects to investigate 84 individuals.
The defendants all come from Rotherham or the nearby area.
Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar, 37, was convicted of rape, indecent assault and procuring a girl under 21 for sex. Tanweer Ali, 37, was convicted of rape, indecent assault and false imprisonment. Salah Ahmed El-Hakam, 39, was convicted of rape.
Nabeel Kurshid, 35, was convicted of rape and indecent assault. Iqlak Yousaf, 34, was convicted of rape and indecent assault. Asif Ali, 33, was convicted of indecent assault. A man of 39, who cannot be named, was convicted of rape. They will be sentenced on November 16.
Ajmal Rafiq, 39, was cleared of all charges.