Rotherham grooming ring: Gang of seven men convicted of sexually exploiting vulnerable teenage girls

One victim had sex with more than ‘100 Asian men’ by the time she was 16, court hears

Rotherham grooming ring: seven men convicted of sexually exploiting vulnerable teenage girls

A gang of seven men which preyed on vulnerable teenage girls for sex in Rotherham has been convicted.

The case was the first major prosecution to come out of an inquiry into sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town. Up to 1,500 potential victims have been identified.

One of the women, now in her thirties, told the court in Sheffield that she had had sex with “at least 100 Asian men” by the age of just 16.

Others described how they had been gang raped in woodland and then told they would be abandoned there alone if they did not go along with the rape.

The victims were “lured by the excitement of friendship with older Asian youths”, the trial heard, but once they were groomed by the gang they were repeatedly sexually assaulted and passed between the men.

The National Crime Agency’s (NCA) investigation into historic child sexual exploitation in Rotherham – codenamed Operation Stovewood – was started after the damning Jay report in 2014.

Led by Professor Alexis Jay – who went on to spearhead the ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – the report looked at the period between 1997 and 2013 and revealed how the authorities failed to stop abusers exploiting as many as 1,500 children.

Prosecutors in the latest trial told the jury at Sheffield Crown Court that the five victims were targeted by the gang because they were needy and desperate for affection.

Michelle Colborne QC, prosecuting, said: “When they were in their teens, they were targeted, sexualised and, in some instances, subjected to acts of a degrading and violent nature at the hands of these men who sit in the dock.

“None of them had the maturity to understand that they were being groomed and exploited.

“[They] believed sex of some kind or other was a necessary price for friendship”.

Once the teenage girls were sucked into the orbit of the men, they were plied with drugs and alcohol and then passed between others in the town for sex.

The psychological scars of their ordeal have stayed with the women, the court heard.

“They each suffer the emotional effects of that abuse to this day,” Ms Colborne said.

“The girls were enthralled by older, Asian men, men who had cars and seemed exciting to them. They thought they were living the high life.”

One of the teenagers was 14 when driven to Sherwood Forest by three men in the gang in 2002 or 2003. She was given cannabis and then forced to have sex with each of the men in turn.

She was bitten during the attack and then discovered later she had fallen pregnant. But the girl’s parents forced her to have an abortion, leading to a “great deal of psychological trauma”, Ms Colborne said.

On several occasions the police pulled over cars driven by the gang members while they had the young, vulnerable teenagers in the back, but this did not stop the abuse.

Only one of the rapes and assaults the men have now been convicted for was reported to the police when it happened.

South Yorkshire Police were told by one girl about an alleged abduction and rape in 2002 but no one was prosecuted as a result.

The Jay report laid out how the council, social services and the police in Rotherham had failed to stop the widespread sexual exploitation.

Often the victims were seen as “undesirables” and not worthy of the authorities’ time, the report found.

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But there was also fear about being accused of racism: most of the perpetrators of the abuse were Asian men and most of the victims were white.

Youth workers, a Home Office researcher, school teachers and others repeatedly tried to raise the alarm over the years but were ignored.

Ajmal Rafiq, 39, charged alongside the seven convicted, was acquitted on all counts by the jury, which deliberated for just over six hours.

The seven others were remanded in custody and will be sentenced on November 16.

They are Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar, 37, who was found guilty of one rape, one charge of aiding and abetting rape, three indecent assaults, one charge of procuring a girl under 21 to have unlawful sexual intercourse with another and one sexual assault; Nabeel Kurshid, 35, found guilty of two rapes and one indecent assault; Iqlak Yousaf, 34, found guilty of two rapes and two indecent assaults; Tanweer Ali, 37, found guilty of two rapes, two indecent assaults and one charge of false imprisonment; Salah Ahmed El-Hakam, 39, found guilty of one rape; Asif Ali, 33, was found guilty of two indecent assaults; and an eighth defendant, who cannot be named, was found guilty of two rapes.

Outside court, Robin Pearson, NCA investigations manager for Operation Stovewood, said: “I’m delighted for the victims who have had the courage to give the evidence in this case.

“They were young girls at the time – children, who were groomed and abused, plied with alcohol, plied with drugs, taken to remote locations and sexually abused by predators.”

Of those convicted, he said: “No single one of them has shown any remorse. None have said anything to indicate that their behaviour was out of the ordinary.

“They were simply that, they were predators. They knew exactly what they were doing. They were grooming children.

“They were making them believe that sexual activity was normal at their ages. The victims were 14, 15, 16 years old at the time and very vulnerable. Frankly, their behaviour was despicable.”

Operation Stovewood has become a huge and sprawling inquiry with 250 staff and an annual budget of £15m. The trial in Sheffield is just one of 22 separate investigations under way by the operation’s detectives.

The NCA says it is working with 296 victims and has identified 151 suspects and further 275 others are also under investigation. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is also in the middle of a separate inquiry into the South Yorkshire Police’s handling of the issue.

Since the Rotherham scandal emerged, there have been a string of similar cases in other towns across Britain where grooming gangs have been convicted of sexually exploiting dozens of teenage girls.

The issue has also become highly politicised, with a number of right-wing figures accusing the establishment of covering up the extent of the problem.

The far-right activist Tommy Robinson was charged with contempt of court after broadcasting on Facebook Live about a grooming gang trial in Leeds, allegedly defying the reporting restrictions the judge had imposed.

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