A gang of seven men has been convicted of sexually exploiting vulnerable teenage girls in Rotherham. One of the complainants told a trial at Sheffield Crown Court how she had sex with ‘at least 100 Asian men’ by the time she was 16 and another described how she was gang-raped in a forest and threatened with being abandoned there. The case is the first major prosecution arising out of Operation Stovewood, the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) inquiry into historical child sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town which has identified more than 1,500 victims.
Six of the seven men were named as Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar, Nabeel Kurshid, Iqbal Yousaf, Tanweer Ali, Salah Ahmed El-Hakam, Asif Ali. The investigation was set up in the wake of the 2014 Jay Report which laid bare the shocking scale of exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 and failure of police and social services to intervene.
The jury in the trial which finished on Monday heard how girls, who are now in their 30s, were ‘lured by the excitement of friendship with older Asian youths’ but then sexually assaulted and passed between men. Prosecutors said the five complainants in the trial were easy to target because they needed to be loved. 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.’
She said: ‘None of them had the maturity to understand that they were being groomed and exploited.’ The prosecutor said they ‘believed sex of some kind or other was a necessary price for friendship’. The jury of nine men and three women was told how girls were given alcohol and drugs before they were passed between men in the town. ‘They each suffer the emotional effects of that abuse to this day,’ Ms Colborne said. The prosecutor 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.’
The seven men who were convicted on Monday were told by Judge Sarah Wright they will be sentenced on November 16. They were all remanded in custody. The girl who had to have an abortion fell pregnant at the age of 14 and told the court that she felt her childhood had been ‘snatched away’ from her. She told detectives during an interview that was recorded on video that she suffered abuse between 1998 and 2001.
She said: ‘I can honestly say that by the age of 16 I had slept with 100 Asian men – some I didn’t see again. ‘The ones who come and use you for one time are the ones who are hard to remember. ‘As soon as you get to know them your number gets passed around. Asian lads demanding to meet you – then you meet a new group and it went on like that. ‘I didn’t know at the time I was being passed around when I was 13 but I know now I’m older.’ She victim described how she initially disliked one of the gang.
However she eventually ‘fell’ for him when he made her feel special by visiting her ‘every day’ after he finished his shift in the early hours of the morning, the jury heard. She said she fell pregnant with his son at the age of 14 and gave birth to him when she was 15. The victim claimed sexual activity with Ali Akhtar continued throughout pregnancy. The court heard she told how after their son was born, she ‘tricked’ him into meeting him when he visited her hoping for sex. She said: ‘I never saw him again after that.’ The girl told how her sister was also allegedly abused by Ali Akhtar and said the abuse they suffered made it feel as though their childhoods were ‘snatched away.’
She said: ‘Before, we would just enjoy going on holiday with our granddad but we had advantage taken of us – we were children one minute and adults the next. ‘We were snatched away.’
An eighth defendant, Ajmal Rafiq was acquitted of two counts of false imprisonment and indecent assault.