Five men who preyed on “vulnerable” teenage girls for sex have today been found guilty of paying for the sexual services of a child.
A jury at Derby Crown Court heard how Anthony Lambert, 51, Stefan Godfrey, 44, John Shaw, 54, Ijaz Ahmed, 35, and Mark Adaoui, 40, picked the girls up from care homes and streets in Derby and paid them up to £30 to perform sex acts.
The men gave the girls, who were aged between 13 and 15, alcohol, drugs and cuddly toys to encourage them to have sex with them.
The convictions come after a lengthy and complex investigation by Derbyshire Police, which started in July 2010, when officers became concerned for the safety of teenage girls who were seen on Derby's streets.
The force worked with Derby City Council after they discovered some of the 15 girls involved were in care.
Seven girls were involved in the prosecution of the men, five of whom were victims and two others who were witnesses to what happened.
The girls knew each other but there was no connection between the men, the investigation found.
During the five-week trial, the jury heard one of the defendants, Anthony Lambert, had picked up one of the victims at her care home with another girl and drove them back to his house. They had sex on his bed while the other girl sat on the floor playing with her mobile phone.
On a separate occasion, the pair drank vodka and smoked cannabis before having sex at his house. On both occasions, Lambert paid the girl £30, the jury heard.
Following today's convictions, Detective Superintendent Andy Stokes, head of Public Protection at Derbyshire Police, said: "These convictions would not have been possible had the victims involved not been brave enough to come forward and speak to police and later give evidence in court.
"They were very vulnerable girls, some of whom came from unstable or difficult backgrounds. They were easy prey for these men, who made them feel important and safe, buying them presents to keep them on side.
"The girls at times felt flattered by the attention and were grateful for the gifts. But they gradually realised that what they were involved in was wrong, they were putting themselves at risk and the men were exploiting them."
He added: "We have a dedicated team of officers who work with other agencies, such as social care, to safeguard children and investigate cases of abuse and exploitation.
"It is important that people realise that men who abuse children come from all walks of life, backgrounds and cultures.
"Nationally, police forces and other organisations are becoming more aware of child exploitation, gaining a better understanding of victims and how offenders operate.
"More recently, the Deputy Children's Commissioner has warned that a disproportionate number of girls living in care homes are becoming victims of exploitation.
"Since 2008, we have continued to build a close relationship with all authorities in Derbyshire that are involved in the welfare of young people so we can work together to better protect children. This includes close liaison with the Derby-based charity Safe and Sound."
At Derby Crown Court today, Ahmed, of Becher Street, Derby; Lambert, of Warren Street, Derby; and Godfrey, of George Street, Pinxton were all found guilty of paying for the sexual services of a child.
The jury also found Shaw, of Kniveton, guilty of the same charge but cleared him of a separate charge of assault.
Adaoui, of Carlton Road, Derby, was also convicted of paying for the sexual services of a child and a separate count of supplying cannabis.
The five men will be sentenced at a later date, Derbyshire Police said.
Five other men, who were part of the same investigation, have already admitted sexual offences involving children at earlier hearings.
A 51-year-old man was jailed for seven years last January for paying for the sexual services of a child and possessing indecent images of children, while a 55-year-old man was given a three-year community order in August after he admitted to three counts of paying for the sexual services of a child, police said.
The remaining three men are due to be sentenced at a later date: Ian Yeoman, 60, from Derby, who admitted 13 counts including paying for the sexual services of a child, sexual activity with a child and possessing indecent images; Colin Simpson, 55, from Creswell, who pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child; and 56-year-old David Shardlow, from Derby, who admitted to nine counts of paying for the sexual services of a child and possessing indecent images.