Police and social workers missed opportunities to stop Bristol sex gang earlier, says review

Parent told the review they were told their daughter was making 'lifestyle choices' after reporting she'd been raped twice

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The Independent Online

Police, health workers and other care professionals missed several opportunities to stop the “horrific” sexual abuse of girls as young as 11 in Bristol, a report has found.

A gang of 13 men were jailed for a total of 116 years in two separate trials at Bristol Crown Court in 2014 for crimes against the nine girls including rape, facilitating child prostitution and supplying Class A drugs. 

A 14th man linked to the gang also admitted supplying cocaine during the first trial.

The report said the girls suffered “beyond comprehension” as victims of “horrific” exploitation which saw them being trafficked across the city to be raped. 

Although the review by the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board found that there was “no endemic failure” once the abuse had been identified there was a “considerable delay” in recognising it was happening in the first place. 

The girls and their families first began reporting the abuse to the police and social services in 2011 but an investigation was only opened in 2013. 

One of the victims, then aged just 11, reported the gang to the police in August 2012 and had video and social media evidence of her assault but it was not followed up for another five months. 

The parent of another victim was told by a police officer that she was making “lifestyle choices” after they reported their daughter had been raped twice. 

 Five members of the sex gang jailed in the second trial: (l-r)  Mustafa Deria, Sakariah Sheikh, Mustapha Farah, Omar Jumale and Said Zakaria (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Four parents told the review authors that they felt they had not been “taken seriously” when they reported their suspicions to police. 

The report said the girls suffered “beyond comprehension” as victims of “horrific” exploitation which saw them being trafficked across the city to be raped. 

Many of the girls had been to see doctors and ask for contraception or had been treated for abdominal bleeding and sexually transmitted diseases but no information was passed on. 

The victims thought they were in loving relationships with the men and had been told sharing girls for sex was a common practice in Somali culture. 

They were “sold” to the gangs' friends for as little as £30 and “rewarded” with alcohol, drugs or gifts to perform sex acts on older men. 

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Kay Wozniak of Avon and Somerset Police said the force had “learnt a great deal in the last four years about child sexual exploitation and child abuse”.

She said: “Now we’re much better able to spot the links, join up the intelligence and, alongside our partners, see a fuller picture. But we’re not complacent. 

“The courage and bravery [the victims] showed was remarkable. We should not lose sight of how difficult it must have been for them to speak out and live through their ordeal once again in court.

“Their voices come through loud and clear. We should listen hard to what they have to say – ask, and ask again. Don’t take no for an answer, and don’t make judgements about what you see on the surface. Look beyond and see the vulnerable child beneath who needs our help.”

The force is now subjected to a separate ungoing investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).