To most visitors, Oxford is a city of sleepy academia and splendid architecture.
But the sex-abuse scandal has exposed the city’s seedy underbelly – and sparked revulsion that such crimes were able to take place without detection for so long. “I was shocked when I heard about what had gone on but Oxford does have two sides to it, definitely,” one resident, who did not want to be named, told The Independent.
“You see things like Morse and you think it is going to be a nice middle-class town but it does have a dark side as well. People would perhaps not realise that.”
One man who lived in the area and knew Mohammed Karrar recalled seeing him bring groups of girls round to his flat to drink alcohol. The resident, who did not want to be named, assumed the girls were legal age but said that “alarm bells were ringing” and he reported Karrar to police.
“I used to speak to him in passing and, when I saw it in the media, I was disgusted personally. And these girls, I assumed they were of legal age, I didn’t know they were underage,” he said. “He seemed polite but then you can’t judge someone in passing; you can’t judge their character. I’m lost for words. Mohammed in the past has been known for muggings. He has stolen from me in the past, he stole my mobile phone from the table.”
Much of the abuse was centred on the Cowley Road, a long, straight road that heads south from Oxford city centre out of the city.
It is less than half a mile from the dock where tourists and students rent punts to take out on to the Thames, to the Cowley Road basement flat where one of the six girls was taken to be raped. The street, slightly further to the south, to which police were called to investigate reports of another rape, is also home to two primary schools.
“There were a lot of girls and a lot of blokes and it went on under your nose and you think ‘you wonder how has that happened’,” said Tony Hare, 70, a retired electrician who lives in Oxford.
“It’s like anywhere else, really. That’s just one area and, of course, there’s a big Asian community in east Oxford.
“There is not really a division between the two communities. It is not a bad place, there are no run-down areas. A lot of it was to do with the area they came from, Cowley Road.”