- Authorities gave grooming gangs green light to abuse by not prosecuting
- Police and social services repeatedly let down victims, report highlights
- Despite ‘comprehensive’ action bringing abusers to court, exploitation remains
- Eight victims interviewed for report, told of how they were locked up not abusers
Grooming gangs are still sexually abusing girls and young women across the country despite repeated warnings and prosecutions, a shocking report revealed yesterday.
Efforts to stop the exploitation have been hampered by the authorities’ failure to understand why abusers target vulnerable white girls, the investigation found.
The author of a report into the latest abuse scandal yesterday urged the Government to order a national study into the ‘cultural influences’ on the offenders, predominantly from an ‘Asian British’ background.
The inquiry into gangs who groomed 700 girls and women in the North-East came four years after more than a thousand victims were found to have been abused in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. The new report revealed:
The authorities effectively gave grooming gangs the green light to sexually abuse by failing to prosecute, instead locking up victims;
- One abuser – an illegal immigrant granted indefinite leave to remain – denounced British girls’ ‘lack of morals’ and praised the availability of sex and drugs;
- The abuse of vulnerable victims is still ‘taking place across the country’ and ‘all children and vulnerable adults are at risk’
The serious case review by barrister David Spicer examined the actions of agencies involved in Operation Sanctuary, which was launched by Northumbria Police.
The report identifies failures by police and social services, who repeatedly let down victims by not dealing with the abusers until a change of approach in 2014 – when Operation Sanctuary began.
It ultimately resulted in 112 offenders being jailed for a total of almost 500 years. Among them was an 18-strong grooming gang in Newcastle, whose members were found guilty of rape, sexual assault, trafficking and inciting prostitution. Police believe the case involved over 100 victims.
Mr Spicer said that since the Rotherham abuse scandal was exposed in 2011, there had been a change of attitude by agencies and an injection of resources. But he concluded that more needs to be done to defeat the criminals.
He noted: ‘Despite comprehensive action to disrupt and prosecute perpetrators and the publicity that this has attracted, sexual exploitation continues. Perpetrators show remarkable persistence in targeting and grooming victims, undeterred by involvement of the police and other agencies.’
Attacker who ‘would have been beheaded in homeland’
An abuser who groomed teenage girls for sex would have been beheaded or stoned if he committed the same crimes in his home country, the report noted.
The asylum seeker showed ‘no regret’ for his behaviour even after he was found guilty and attacked the ‘lack of morals’ of British girls.
Before coming to Britain, the man, who was not named, spent ten years in Turkey, around five in Greece and some time in Italy and France. He had hoped to get to Canada.
The report said: ‘If convicted for rape in his home country, he would be beheaded or buried up to the neck and stoned.
‘He was asked about what he thought about the United Kingdom and influences in his education.
He exploited a 15-year-old girl – but told the inquiry team he was convicted only ‘because of a conspiracy by the Government, police and the judge who paid the victims’. The man was the only one of the abusers to agree to help the investigation.
The report said it was ‘unfortunate’ there was not more input from other perpetrators.
The review noted the abusers were mainly ‘not white but came from a diverse range of backgrounds including Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Iranian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish, Albanian and Eastern European’.
He said: ‘I am aware how easy it is to treat vulnerable witnesses badly. It’s not a difficult process to confuse them and distress them.
‘All the victims we spoke to said they were disgusted with their experience in the court and several of them had to have mental health treatment afterwards as they were suffering from trauma.’
One girl was questioned about material from her local authority records that she had no idea existed, let alone been released to the defence, Mr Spicer said.
He added: ‘Knowingly exposing a vulnerable, damaged person to that experience does seem to be inhuman and degrading treatment because you know they are going to be damaged by the process.’
Victims told Mr Spicer how they were raped while under the influence of drink and drugs.
‘I never had sex when I was sober,’ one said. ‘I wanted to leave. I was given drink. I kept saying no and fighting them off. I was very tired and fell asleep. When I woke, I had been raped.’
The review also said many victims did not realise they were being abused because the perpetrators made them think they were friends.
One girl said: ‘I didn’t think what was happening was wrong. I thought they were my friends. They bought me drink and drugs.’
The Government promised to ‘look carefully’ at Mr Spicer’s 33 recommendations. He said more powers were also needed to protect adults who were ‘being targeted, groomed and exploited’.
His report also highlighted that the men responsible for ‘this particular model of abuse’ were from a predominantly ‘Asian British’ minority background. Significantly, their ‘beliefs are not known’.
Mr Spicer said professionals interviewed for his inquiry ‘emphasised the lack of information about the profile and motivation for abusing’ that continued to hamper understanding how to stop it.
He said national research needs to be conducted so guidance can be published for professionals on the ‘most effective way’ of preventing exploitation.
The report revealed how the authorities previously ignored the gangs of men from Bangladeshi, Indian, Iranian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish, Albanian and Eastern European backgrounds operating in the Newcastle area.
In some cases the victims themselves were placed in secure accommodation. ‘Deterrent punishments’ were considered against them for being drunk and disorderly or making false allegations when they changed their accounts.
Meanwhile, the abusers who raped young girls and plied them with drugs and alcohol in return for sex were ‘not punished or disrupted’, the report stated.
Although good recent practice by detectives was identified, their previous negligent approach was laid bare. Police failed to consistently investigate, formally interview and check the backgrounds of suspects, the report revealed.
There were also ‘no effective inquiries’ about why girls were found with older, unrelated men.
Eight of the victims were interviewed for the inquiry. One said: ‘They should have punished the men that were doing it and not me.’ The girls were horrified to be locked up, with one saying: ‘I was put in a secure placement. I was a victim – why was I there?’
Mr Spicer criticised the ‘lack of professional curiosity’ by agencies and highlighted the failure to collect physical evidence.
Nurses at sexual health services were praised in the report, but it said strict confidentiality rules meant little information could be passed on so identifying potential victims was ‘extremely difficult’.
The report also detailed the failure of the criminal justice system and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring offenders to court. Once cases did go before a judge, Mr Spicer said many victims faced an ordeal when giving evidence.
Prosecutors have admitted their approach to the credibility of witnesses was ‘inappropriately cautious’, the report states. It concluded: ‘Unless there is change, which requires national debate, sexual exploitation is not likely to be prevented and early identification will remain difficult.’
The total number of children sexually exploited by Asian gangs in Rotherham is even higher than the original estimate that provoked a national outcry.
A report published four years ago by Professor Alexis Jay exposed widespread failures and negligence by the authorities, who did nothing to tackle paedophiles of mainly Pakistani heritage for fear of being labelled racist.
She estimated 1,400 children in the town were abused from 1997 to 2013.
A massive £7million-a-year investigation by the National Crime Agency aimed at bringing offenders to justice is ongoing. There are 144 officers working on Operation Stovewood and six trials due to take place this year.
The team has identified 110 suspects so far, with the total number of victims now officially 1,510.
Vida Morris, chair of the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults Board, apologised to the young women who fell into the gangs’ clutches.
She said: ‘We are profoundly sorry for the trauma they have suffered. No one can possibly begin to understand the devastating effects of sexual exploitation unless they have experienced it themselves. They have been brave beyond belief and have helped to make this city a safer place.’
Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, said: ‘Sexual exploitation is happening across the country but what we have learned can be used to help others. We know it is still going on in our city, but we are doing everything in our power to prevent it.’
Darren Best, temporary Deputy Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, defended the force and said officers had changed their approach to exploitation victims.
He said: ‘We are not complacent. We need to be consistent and sure that we continue to get it right.’
Girl, 13, raped beneath flag
One victim – a vulnerable 13-year-old in care – was drugged before being gang-raped under a Kurdish flag.
She was picked up from her children’s home in a Mercedes and driven to flats in west Newcastle to be abused by anyone who wanted to do so.
The girl was a frequent runaway and in a ‘wrecked’ state, the court heard.
On one occasion she was taken to a party at a flat where there was a group of seven men in a room with a Kurdish flag on the wall.
She tried to resist the advances of one man but was given the drug mephedrone before the gang took turns raping her. She was later returned to the children’s home with £200 and more drugs.
Another of the girls was 16 when she met Abdul Sabe as she walked home drunk with a friend through a park in west Newcastle.
Sabe took her number and from this moment she was in the gang’s clutches.
She started taking mephedrone, which she was told to call ‘God’, and was soon having sex in return for drugs in hotels and private flats.
This went on for over a year. She moved in with Habibur Rahim who later raped her, an experience that left her with ‘severe depression’.