Authorities apologise for failure to rescue schoolgirls from sex gang
Seven members of a sadistic paedophile ring are facing long jail sentences 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.
"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."
Girls subjected to depraved regime
Girls as young as 11 were forced into prostitution and trafficked around the country by the evil sex ring between 2004 and last year.
The gang used and abused their victims over long periods of time, subjecting them to "extreme depravity".
And, as with the Rochdale grooming ring, opportunities to stop the abuse were missed time and again.
One of the victims described how she was even threatened with arrest for wasting police time when she tried to report the abuse.
The girls were chosen because they had troubled upbringings, meaning people would be less likely to be looking out for them.
They were groomed by the gang, who lavished them with gifts or simply showed them the care and attention they craved.
But the attention was simply a way to exploit their vulnerability.
Having secured their confidence, the men would ply them with alcohol and introduce them to drugs such as cannabis, crack and heroin.
The youngsters would become addicted, making them even more dependent on the men, who would threaten to harm them or their families if they tried to leave.
The girls were often taken to guest houses or empty private properties in Oxford, some of which were used solely for abuse.
Men would travel from Bradford, Leeds, London and Slough to pay to have sex with the girls in appointments arranged by the gang.
One youngster described two of the men as "the sick sex monsters".
A girl was branded with a hairpin which was bent and heated up by a man who regarded her as his property.
Girl A felt brave enough to face her abusers in court, while others gave evidence from behind a curtain.
She said she was repeatedly raped and sold for sex between 2004 and 2007 when she was aged 12 to 15.
She wept as she described how the gang threatened to burn her younger brother alive unless she had sex with them.
But nothing happened after she went to police and when she was 15 she decided to break away from her abusers.
She said police should have done more to protect her but instead they said they would arrest her.
She added: "They threatened on a number of occasions to arrest me for wasting police time for turning up at a police station in a state after running away.
"Any self-respecting police officer would have seen something was wrong.
"If you pick up a child who is covered in cigarette burns and bruises, something is fundamentally wrong.
"Adults should be doing their jobs, it's not down to a child."
She said she wanted to see her attackers punished: "I am here to tell my story and see the people who abused me found guilty."
Girl B said she was told she would be shot if she did not have sex with men when she was 14.
Now 21, she said men would wait for her near her children's home. She would be driven to various places where she would be plied with drink and drugs in order to be raped or sold to other men.
She said Akhtar Dogar threatened her when she refused to perform a sex act.
"He said if I didn't do what I was told he knew someone who would shoot me," she told jurors.
In August 2006, she was taken to a flat off Rectory Road, Oxford, and rang police after realising she was with 11 men who wanted to have sex with her.
Girl C wept as she described how she was plied with drugs and forced to have sex with strangers while being filmed at the age of 13.
Now aged 20, Girl C said she felt wanted by the man who had been nice to her at first and fed her drugs.
She said: "I still felt like he cared. I did feel used at the time though."
She was taken to London, Coventry and Manchester to have sex with older men.
She was given heroin and crack cocaine. On one occasion in London she was fed so much crack that she could not breathe and was rushed to hospital.
The girl was taken the Nanford guest house over two years to be sold for sex. She became pregnant in 2007.
Girl D, a teenager, gave the most harrowing evidence. She was groomed at the age of 11 and turned into a sex slave by an older man.
She had gone to a flat "to chill" and was given drink and drugs. Mohammed Karrar followed her to the bathroom and raped her.
She said: "At the time I thought it was my choice and it was fine, but years on I can see I never had a choice. I said 'no' but I didn't have a say."
He later introduced her to other men and told her to perform sex acts on them.
At the age of 12, she was taken to a house in Reading, where she was forced to undergo an illegal abortion on the living room floor.
She said she fell in love with Karrar even though he was married.
She told jurors: "It was literally like a normal relationship but I know now it isn't a normal relationship. I was a child.
"He told me he loved me. He said he would take me to Saudi Arabia when I was 15 and marry me. I believed him at the time."
On one occasion, she threatened him with a lock knife after he raped her in a bathroom.
Her punishment was being hit across the head with a baseball bat and assaulted with its metal handle.
"At the time, I thought he loved me and it was a mistake he made. I thought it was my own fault, that I threatened him with a knife," she added.
Girl D said when she was 12 and a half, she was taken to a flat and prepared to have group sex with at least four men.
She said five men arrived and started drinking and taking cocaine. "I felt really ill. I felt in a daze.
"I remember being lifted onto a kitchen table. I had sex with all of them, four of them."
Girl D, now 19, said that after that she was taken two or three times a week to High Wycombe for "sex parties".
There would be three or four men present and she would be subjected to indignities such as biting, being horse-whipped, candle wax poured on her and being tied up.
Some men would call her "our baby girl" while other times men would "swarm" around her.
At 13, she was injected with heroin on a number of occasions. She would be beaten if she refused.
All the time, she loved her abuser and hoped he loved her.
Girl E is still only 16. She became involved with one of the men when she was 12 and was then introduced to others. She woke up one day in bed with two men - but could not remember how she got there.
Girl F went around with girl E and became involved with older men.