Seven members of a sadistic paedophile ring are facing long jail sentences on Tuesday as police and social workers apologised to their victims for failing to rescue them. The vulnerable schoolgirls were plucked from the streets and care homes to be drugged, raped and sold into prostitution in the university city of Oxford.
The men were found guilty at the Old Bailey of a catalogue of offences including conspiracy to rape, child prostitution and trafficking over an eight year period. They were remanded in custody for sentencing on June 26. Judge Peter Rook warned them: "You have been convicted of the most serious offences. Long custodial sentences are inevitable. "
Two sets of brothers, Akhtar Dogar, 32, and Anjum Dogar, 31, and Mohammed Karrar, 38, and Bassam Karrar, 33, were convicted along with Kamar Jamil, 27, Assad Hussain, 32, and Zeeshan Ahmed, 27. Fighting broke out in the dock at the Old Bailey after two other defendants - Mohammed Hussain, 25, and a man who cannot be named for legal reasons - were cleared. Zeeshan Ahmed struck out at Mohammed Hussain before being bundled out of the dock by officers.
The admissions of failure from the authorities came as it became apparent that police missed several chances to catch gang members before they were finally arrested. Some victims relived their ordeals during the four month trial, describing how they were groomed, beaten, betrayed and sold into prostitution around the country. One was still so frightened of her attackers that she refused to give evidence for fear of reprisals. It was only after she was given legal advice that Girl D agreed to tell her story on a videolink from another room in the building. She had been raped and prostituted at 11 by Mohammed Karrar, who bought her little gifts and showed her the first affection she had known.
Another victim, Girl A, complained of her plight to police on two occasions but no one was charged. A care home manager refused to pay her taxi fare when she returned after absconding. The then 14-year-old was driven back to Oxford to be raped. The carer was later sacked and the privately-run home where girls were placed by Oxford County Council was closed down. The girls had been put into care because their behaviour was out of control and for their own protection. Time after time, they disappeared from children's homes and were caught with older men by police, but the exploitation continued.
Joanna Simons, the council's chief executive, apologised to the girls. She said: "We are incredibly sorry we were not able to stop it any sooner. We were up against a gang of devious criminals. The girls thought they were their friends. I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the girls in giving evidence. They have been so brave. We are so sorry we weren't able to stop it before.
She added: "We did not know the nature of what was happening - the devious nature of such depravity. We did not know we were dealing with a gang."
Detective Chief Superintendent Rob Mason said: "Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council social services deeply regret that this activity wasn't identified sooner and that we were too reliant on victims supporting criminal proceedings, and that they suffered a terrible ordeal."
The six girls said they had been victims of men mostly of Asian origin in the Cowley area of East Oxford while aged between 11 and 15. The gang was finally arrested after police and social services got together to form Operation Bullfinch. By speaking to complainants and looking at their histories, they realised they were dealing with an organised grooming gang. Girls were either threatened that they or their families would be harmed, or brainwashed into thinking they were betraying their lover if they talked to police.
Noel Lucas QC, prosecuting, told the jury: "They were vulnerable young girls, children who were out of control. "It is a pattern that repeats itself time after time." Senior police investigation officer Simon Morton said the victims were learning to live with their experiences. He said: "This has been really difficult for them. They have had to relive it in open court. They are really proud they have been able to tell their stories at last. They have done it to prevent other girls going through it. They have been through possibly the most traumatic thing a child could go through." He added: "Time is a great healer and I honestly hope it will."
All except two of the men were of Pakistani origin. The Karrar brothers were from north Africa. The trial followed the jailing last year of Asian men in Rochdale for abusing vulnerable girls, another case where chances to stop the gang were missed. Earlier this year the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service announced new measures to change and improve their response to sexual offending, particularly involving children.
Police have arrested a further nine men from the Oxford area under Operation Bullfinch. Mohammed Karrar was found guilty of 18 offences, many of them against Girl D. He was found guilty of rape of a child under 13 and procuring an abortion, conspiracy to rape, child prostitution and trafficking. Akhtar Dogar was found guilty of 11 offences including rape, child prostitution and trafficking.
Anjum Dogar was found guilty of nine offences including rape, child prostitution and trafficking. Bassam Karrar was found guilty of nine offences including rape of a child under 13, conspiracy to rape a girl under 13, child prostitution and trafficking.
Kamar Jamil was convicted of eight offences including rape, conspiracy to rape and child prostitution.
Assad Hussain and Zeeshan Ahmed were each convicted of two counts of sexual activity with a child. Baljit Ubhey of the Crown Prosecution Service said: "The men who have been convicted have still failed to accept any responsibility for their crimes. They are nothing less than vicious sexual predators."
Jon Brown, of the NSPCC children's charity, said: "The girls were let down by those who were meant to care for them and obvious signs of abuse were missed. Their treatment was unacceptable."