“Each of the complainants in this case were groomed, coerced and intimidated. Some were given alcohol and or/drugs, and all of them were given attention and lured into a way of life that was highly damaging for them,” Judge Sarah Wright told a South Yorkshire grooming gang as she jailed them for a combined total of 101 years.
The six defendants, Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar; Nabeel Kurshid; Iqlak Yousaf; Tanweer Ali; Salah Ahmed El-Hakam and Asif Ali, did not utter a single word as they were sent to begin lengthy prison sentences for what Judge Wright described as the ‘targeted’ sexual abuse of five vulnerable girls.
A packed public gallery, a completely full press bench and the four jury members who returned for today’s sentencing hearing watched on as the men were jailed.
The sexual abuse was carried out in Rotherham between 1998 and 2005, and the men were found guilty of a total of 22 charges following an eight week trial at Sheffield Crown Court that concluded last month.
In a statement read out in court, one of the victims, Girl B, described how the abuse she suffered as a child has affected her relationship with her son, who she believed she had fallen pregnant with as a result of the sexual abuse she was subjected to by Ali Akhtar.
Girl B later discovered he was not the father of her son, following a DNA test. “It’s been very difficult for my son to come to terms with the fact that, as he sees it, he is the product of me being groomed as child,” said the woman, who is believed to have been around 13-years-old when she started being passed around from man to man in Rotherham.
During a police interview, Girl B 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.”
She added: “As an adult, and a parent, I can look over that period of abuse and see that I was truly exploited, and placed in situations I didn’t have the maturity or the understanding to consent to.”
Girl B and her sister, Girl A, were both sexually abused by Ali Akhtar and Tanweer Ali.
Girl A is less than a year older than her sister, and says the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Ali Akhtar and Tanweer Ali, and others, has led her to feel that some parts of her have been broken, and ‘can never be fixed’.
Judge Wright described the sisters as being ‘effectively abandoned’ by both of their parents, and said they had ‘already been corrupted’ by the time Ali Akhtar and Tanweer Ali started grooming and abusing them.
“They did not come from a stable of protective environment, and so were extremely vulnerable to those who set out to exploit them,” said Judge Wright, adding: “The girls were enthralled by older males who had cars and seemed exciting to them. They now appreciate they were being exploited, but at the time they thought they were living the high life.”
“These sisters, like so many others, were easy to exploit because of their need to be loved.”
The court heard how the third complainant in the case, Girl C, was exploited by all six defendants.
“By the time she encountered each of you, she too, had already been the subject of targeted grooming and sexual abuse, and had no proper appreciation of safe relationships, or how to protect herself.
“She had stopped going to school, had poor relationships with people in authority, and would lie to protect those who were in fact exploiting her. She was extremely vulnerable. She now has complex mental health problems as a result of the traumatic stress she suffered, and the level of her intellectual functioning made the assistance of an intermediary necessary,” said Judge Wright.
Prosecutor Michelle Colbourne QC said Girl C had made the decision not to provide the court with a victim impact statement because she did not want the defendants to know the extent to which their actions had impacted on her life, both as a child and as an adult.
Just like the other complainants in the case, the court heard how Girl D was also sexually exploited by many men as a child.
The jury of nine men and three women convicted Yousaf of indecently assaulting her in various locations in Rotherham.
“She has described the shame she felt about what had happened to her when she was young. Having seen her give evidence, I am in no doubt that she has suffered severe psychological harm as a result of the substantial abuse she was subjected to,” said Judge Wright.
Girl E was subjected to abuse by many men as a child, and in particular, was gang raped at Sherwood Forest by Kurshid, Yousaf and a third, unidentified man. The horrific gang rape resulted in the girl becoming pregnant, and she had to have a termination.
In a heartbreaking victim impact statement, Girl E said the defendants’ actions had ‘broken her’.
She said: “The men who committed these criminal acts had a huge impact on my life. They started the exploitation I suffered, but it didn’t end when they walked away. They broke me, they made me think that abusive behaviour was normal.”
Judge Wright commended each of the victims, none of whom can be named for legal reasons, for the courage and and fortitude they have shown, in not only coming forward, but also in having to endure reliving their traumatic experiences in court.
She said: “All five have shown immeasurable bravery in coming forward to give their accounts. They showed strength of character in relating their experiences to the police, and then giving evidence. They gave evidence knowing it would be extremely embarrassing and distressing for them.
“Each has shown bravery beyond measure in speaking about such intimate and traumatic experiences and exposing themselves to intrusion and scrutiny. Each has been concerned, not just with justice for themselves, but with a desire to protect others in the future.
“I re-iterate what I have previously said in relation to other cases. They have, I find, each suffered severe psychological harm. They continue to suffere considerable trauma, and will continue to suffer throughout their lives, as a result of your actions.
“Your offending has not only impacted upon them, but also upon their families and loved ones and the wider community.
“You have each caused immeasurable suffering and far-reaching harm.”
Today’s sentencing brings the total number of people convicted as part of Operation Stovewood – the National Crime Agency’s investigation into non-familial child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 – to 13 .
Speaking after the sentencing,
Operation Stovewood Senior Investigating Officer, Paul Williamson said: “The men who have been sentenced today preyed on vulnerable young girls for their own satisfaction. They used violence and intimidation and believed they were untouchable by law enforcement. Today, as they begin serving their sentences, I want to reassure the victims and survivors across Rotherham that the NCA and our partners are committed to bringing child sexual offenders to justice..
“As we see yet more men jailed for sexually abusing girls in Rotherham, I would like to pay tribute to our victims and survivors who have placed their trust in us to support them through this prosecution, and for their courage in giving evidence in what must have been a hugely challenging and emotional experience for them all.
“I also want to thank partners for their support in this harrowing investigation– particularly the Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) and the Crown Prosecution Service.
“Working with South Yorkshire Police, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and the many other partners we are engaged with, we will not stop in our endeavors to ensure those who exploited vulnerable young people in the worst imaginable way will be finally held accountable for their crimes.”
Each of the defendants received sizeable prison sentences, ranging from 10 to 23 years, for the 22 sex offences jurors convicted them of last month.
The list of defendants and charges are:
– Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar, 36, of Godstone Road, Rotherham was described as a the gang’s ‘ringleader’ who would befriend young girls and introduce them to his friends.
He was jailed for 23 years for one count of rape; one count of aiding and abetting rape; three counts of indecent assault; one count of procuring a girl under 21 to have sexual intercourse and one count of sexual assault
- Nabeel Kurshid, 35, of Weetwood Road, Rotherham: jailed for 19 years for two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault
- Iqlaq Yousaf, 34, of Tooker Road, Rotherham: jailed for 20 years for two counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault
- Tanweer Ali, 36, of Godstone Road, Rotherham: jailed for 14 years for two counts of rape, two counts of indecent assault and one count of false imprisonment
- Salah Ahmed El-Hakam, 39, of Tudor Close, Darnall: jailed for 15 years for one count of rape
- Asif Ali, 33, of HMP Rye Hill, Northampton: jailed for 10 years, to run concurrently with a 12 year sentence imposed in 2016 for a charge of rape, for two counts of indecent assault