Sex predators: Police shocked by scale of abuse
Police were shocked by the extent of the abuse the gang of "predatory sex offenders" carried out as they systematically raped and abused young girls.
By befriending the youngsters, giving them alcohol and inviting them to parties where they were often used for sex, the gang used a "classical grooming process" to entice and bewitch the youngsters, a senior police officer said.
The gang managed to particularly seek out a majority of youngsters who had troubled personal and family backgrounds, meaning they were vulnerable and in no position to stand up to the men who wanted them simply for sexual gratification.
Of the 26 victims, the youngest of which was 12 and the eldest 18, a serious case review was carried out into two who were in local authority care at the time of the abuse.
Multi-agency reviews were also carried out into more than 20 of the other victims involved.
But Derbyshire Police said the girls were from a variety of backgrounds and urged all parents to be aware of the risks of sexual exploitation.
During the trial, the court heard a harrowing account from one of the girls about a time she was raped in June 2008, aged just 16.
She knew one of the men who rang her and asked her to meet up, and after being taken to a petrol station to buy alcohol, she was driven to an isolated spot where she was raped.
Describing the ordeal, she said: "It felt like it lasted for hours but it didn't, I know that it didn't. While I was lying there, he said 'Do you like it, do you like it?'. And I said 'Yes'.
"I tried to do everything I could to stop it so at that stage I just said 'Yes'.
"I just thought if I tell him what he wants to hear, it will be done quicker."
Prosecutor Yvonne Coen QC told the court the "young and impressionable" girls were used as sex objects either for members of the gang or for a variety of their friends.
She said: "The reason for the main defendants' relentless pursuit of the girls in this way was quite simple. They wanted sex, whether the girls wanted sex or not."
After finding themselves in situations where they felt very uneasy, it seemed many of the victims finally came to a point where they wanted to change their circumstances, Detective Superintendent Debbie Platt, of Derbyshire Police, said.
She worked closely on the investigation, and said: "My personal belief is that the girls had had enough; they wanted to be listened to, they wanted to be believed and they wanted the abuse to stop.
"I think that's a critical part, they knew the offenders were under arrest and that's when they've decided to speak to the agencies and particularly the police."
As one victim came forward, officers were led to another, then another, followed by many more, she said.
She praised the courage of the girls, who had to sit through the court case and reveal personal details of their lives to strangers in a courtroom, and added: "The girls have been incredibly brave.
"Not just by putting their trust in the police officers who took that initial statement from them, but they've seen this through.
"It's been an 18-month process for most of these victims and they've been incredibly brave sticking with the prosecution. They've given evidence in a court - some of that's been quite traumatic, as you can imagine. We're talking about serious sexual offences and rape - and we are incredibly proud of these girls."
A report published after the gang was convicted said there were "missed opportunities" by agencies to help the girls.
The review's executive summary said that although it was difficult to know whether the sexual exploitation could have been predicted for the two girls in care, their background meant it was predictable they would become vulnerable adolescents at risk of abuse.
"Had there been earlier, concerted intervention in their lives to address their unmet needs, it is likely that they would have been less vulnerable as adolescents and therefore less likely to be abused," it said.
"These conclusions are mirrored in the findings from the multi-agency reviews.
"There were missed opportunities to assess significant concerns in relation to the other young women and comprehensive assessments were not completed.
"When they were completed, the quality of assessments was frequently poor, with little involvement of the young person and their family, and all the relevant agencies."
But despite drawbacks, once the level and nature of the abuse was recognised when the operation went "live" in April 2009, agencies showed a "commendable" response, the report said.
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