Mistakes by police, social services and the Crown Prosecution Service led to potentially dozens of young girls being raped, beaten and trafficked by a child exploitation ring, it emerged yesterday.
A failure in 2008 to believe a 15-year-old girl's evidence that she had been groomed by a network of taxi drivers and takeaway workers in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, led to at least two more years of abuse being meted out to the gang's victims.
Nine men were described as "pure evil" by detectives as they were convicted at Liverpool Crown Court for the grooming of vulnerable girls.
The trial heard how the girls, aged between 13 and 15, were befriended with the offer of alcohol and drugs, kebabs, or mobile-phone credits by the older men at late-night outlets before being sexually exploited by up to 50 men across the north of England.
One 15-year-old victim described how she was forced to have sex with up to 20 men in one day. Another told how she was raped by two men as she was being sick from alcohol.
The trial led to violent disturbances in Heywood near Rochdale, where the grooming took place, with gangs of white youths attacking local Asian-owned businesses where some of the men had previously worked.
Far-right groups held demonstrations outside the court, prompting two Asian barristers to pull out of the trial fearing retribution. Other protests were held in neighbouring towns to exploit tensions arising from the case – the first in which men have been convicted of trafficking children for sex within the UK.
The jury took five days to find Kabeer Hassan, Abdul Aziz, Abdul Rauf, Mohammed Sajid, Adil Khan, Abdul Qayyum, Mohammed Amin, Hamid Safi and a 59-year-old man – who cannot be named – guilty of exploiting the five young victims on 25 of the 35 charges they faced. The men are due to be sentenced today.
Failures in an initial investigation in August 2008 meant that the gang was allowed to continue its activities until 2010. Greater Manchester Police apologised to the first victim yesterday.
Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for the North-west, who reversed the CPS's decision not to proceed with the case, said lawyers had been "wrong". He added that he would apologise personally to the victim.