The victims of a South Yorkshire grooming gang have been praised for their courage they showed in coming forward about the exploitation they suffered – one of whom was sexually abused by 100 men by the time she was 16.
It took the jury of nine men and three women just over six hours to find Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar, Nabeel Kurshid, Iqlaq Yousaf and Tanweer Ali, Salah Ahmed El-Hakam, Asif Ali and a seventh defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, guilty of 24 sex offences.
The grooming gang abused five girls under 16 in Rotherham between 1998 and 2005, and were convicted as part of the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood, which investigates non-familial child sexual exploitation carried out in the town between 1998 and 2013.
Speaking after the verdicts came in this morning, Operation Stovewood Senior Investigating Officer, Paul Williamson said: “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.
“This case concerned child sexual exploitation arising from events in Rotherham in the late 1990s and into the next decade. The victims and survivors were in their teens when they were targeted and subjected to acts of degrading and violent exploitation and have had to wait a long time for justice which – after a herculean effort over the last three years by my officers - has been delivered today.
READ MORE: Gang of ‘despicable predators’ abused South Yorkshire girls as young as 13 who ‘just wanted to be loved’
“I would like to thank partners for their support – particularly the Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) and want to reassure victims and survivors in Rotherham that the NCA remain committed to investigate all matters within our remit to bring child sex offenders to justice”.
During the course of the eight week trial at Sheffield Crown Court, the jury was told how the victims, none of whom can be named for legal reasons, were often ‘passed around’ from man to man.
One of the victims Girl B told police how she was sexually abused by 100 Asian men by the time she was 16-years-old.
“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 said in a video interview played to the court.
Describing what made her feel as though she was ‘passed around,’ the girl said: “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’m now I’m older.”
Lead prosecutor Michelle Colborne QC told the jury how Kurshid and Yousaf, along with a third man, raped Girl D at Sherwood Forest some time between August 2002 and August 2003 when she was around 14-years-old.
Michelle Colborne QC, prosecuting, said that the girl was given cannabis and was ‘high as a kite’ at the time of the rape.
She said: "Each defendant took turns in having sex with her. "She was warned she had to do what she was told or she would be left there." Ms Colborne said the girl was bitten during the alleged attack, leaving marks on her neck.
She said: "The defendants ensured her compliance by giving her drugs and threatening to abandon her in the forest."
The prosecutor added: "She became pregnant as a result of the group rape.
"Her parents forced her to have a termination. She suffered a great deal of psychological trauma as a result."
Judge Sarah Wright remanded the seven guilty defendants into custody, ahead of their sentencing on November 16.
The jury acquitted Ajmal Rafiq, 39, of Warwick Street, Rotherham, of the two counts of false imprisonment and indecent assault he faced.
The seventh defendant was also acquitted of one count of rape and one count of abducting a child.
The defendants and list of charges are:
- Ali Akhtar, 36, of Godstone Road, Rotherham: 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
- Kurshid, 35, of Weetwood Road, Rotherham: two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault
- Yousaf, 34, of Tooker Road, Rotherham: two counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault
- Ali, 36, of Godstone Road, Rotherham: two counts of rape, two counts of indecent assault and one count of false imprisonment
- Ahmed El-Hakam, 39, of Tudor Close, Darnall: one count of rape
- Asif Ali, 33, of HMP Rye Hill, Northampton: two counts of indecent assault
- A seventh defendant who cannot be named: two counts of rape