Yard warns of attacks by teenage rape gangs

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Scotland Yard has set up an inquiry into reports by police officers of a growing number of gang-rape attacks – particularly by teenagers.

The Metropolitan Police is increasingly concerned by the apparent spread of the phenomenon, highlighted this week after three girls in their teens claimed to have been gang-raped by a group of boys behind a beach kiosk at Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Walton, the head of the Metropolitan Police's Operation Sapphire team, which oversees the investigation of sex crimes, said gang rape had become a priority issue. "We are concerned about what we see as an increase in gang or group rape, particularly among juveniles," he said.

"Officers are saying they are seeing a lot more of it and it seems to be around the 14 to 16 year-old-age group."

The Independent reported earlier this month that Lord Warner, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, was concerned at anecdotal reports that young girls were being forced into group sex as part of gang initiation on inner-city estates.

Det Insp Walton said: "Whether it is to do with gangs or not is another issue. But we are concerned about group rape per se and what we see is an increase in reporting."

The Scotland Yard inquiry follows a succession of horrific gang rapes in the capital.

A 32-year-old Austrian tourist, Alexandra Sablatnig, was repeatedly raped by a gang of eight teenagers then thrown into a canal near London's King's Cross station in 1996.

Months later, six youths subjected a Japanese student to a 24-hour rape ordeal in a south London council house. The trial judge said that to describe the attackers as "animals" was "an insult to the animal kingdom".

In March last year, an 18-year-old girl, Claire Marsh, became the youngest woman to be found guilty of rape in Britain after a court heard she pinned down a 38-year-old woman, Delphi Newman, who was raped by two teenage boys on a canal path in west London.

A month later, five boys were convicted of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl in Liverpool.

Last December, a 15-year-old girl was gang-raped after being chased and surrounded by 15 teenage boys in a shopping centre in Guildford, Surrey, on a busy Saturday morning.

Two weeks earlier, a 14-year-old girl was raped at knifepoint by a group of boys in a playground in Willesden, north-west London.

Detective Chief Inspector Barrie Simpson, of West Midlands Police, who dealt with one case in Birmingham, said those involved had "no respect for females whatsoever [and] especially not these young girls".

Det Insp Walton warned group rape often did not conform to the "stereotype" of a woman being attacked by strangers "on a canal tow-path". He said: "More than ever it appears it is people who are known to the victim."

Seven youths were arrested yesterday in connection with the alleged rape of three teenage girls on Southend seafront on Friday night. They were arrested at several addresses in east London and taken to police stations in Essex to be interviewed.

Five other youths arrested in connection with the incident after they walked into a London police station on Tuesday have been released on police bail pending further inquiries.