Rochdale sex trafficking gang
The Rochdale sex trafficking gang was a group of men who preyed on under-age teenage girls in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England. They were convicted of sex trafficking on 8 May 2012; other offences included rape, trafficking girls for sex and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child. 47 girls were identified as victims of child sexual exploitation during the police investigation. The men were all British Pakistanis (except for one from Afghanistan) and from Muslim backgrounds, and the girls were White; this has led to national discussion of whether the crimes were racially motivated, or, conversely, whether the early failure to investigate them was linked to the authorities' fear of being accused of racism.
- 1 Gang members
- 2 Abuse
- 3 Trial and sentences
- 4 Second sex ring
- 5 Reaction and public debate
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
12 men were originally charged: of the nine men convicted, eight were of British Pakistani origin and one was an Afghan asylum-seeker; of the three others who were not convicted, one was cleared of all charges, the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of the second, and the third was not present at the trial after fleeing to Pakistan while on bail. Most of them were married and well-respected within their community. One gang member convicted of sex trafficking was a religious studies teacher at a mosque and a married father-of-five. The men were aged between 24 and 59 and knew each other in various ways. Two worked for the same taxi firm and another two worked at a takeaway restaurant; some came from the same village in Pakistan and another pair shared a flat. The gang worked to secure underage girls for sex.
The abuse occurred in 2008 and 2009 and was centred around two takeaways in Heywood near Rochdale. Despite one of the victims going to the police in 2008 to report the grooming, and the detectives involved giving her their support, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute two of the men at the time, invoking the witnesses' credibility. As a result of the CPS dropping the case, the police halted their on-going investigation, which was only resumed when a second girl made complaints similar to the previous victim's in December 2009. The CPS's original decision was overturned in 2011 when a new chief prosecutor for the region, Nazir Afzal (himself a first generation British-Pakistani), was appointed.
The victims were vulnerable teenagers from deprived, dysfunctional backgrounds who were targeted in "honeypot locations" where young people regularly congregated, such as takeaway food shops. One of the victims, a 15-year-old known as the Honey Monster, acted as a recruiter for the gang, procuring girls as young as 13 for the gang's use. The victims were coerced and bribed into keeping quiet about the abuse through a combination of free alcohol and drugs, food, small sums of money and other gifts.
The oldest member of the gang to be eventually convicted, Shabir Ahmed, was for a while the main trafficker of the victims: on one occasion he ordered a girl, then 15, to have sex with a member of the gang, Kabeer Hassan, as a "treat" for his birthday — Hassan then raped the girl. Abdul Aziz, a married father of three, took over from Shabir Ahmed as the main trafficker and was paid by various men to supply underage girls for sex.
Although some of the victims willingly had sex with their abusers, others were physically assaulted and raped by as many as five men at a time, or obliged into having sex with "several men in a day, several times a week". The victims were plied with drugs and alcohol and were passed around to friends and family, being taken to various locations around the north of England, including Rochdale, Oldham, Nelson, Bradford and Leeds. The abusers paid small sums of money for these encounters, one 13-year-old victim recounting that, after being forced to have sex in exchange for vodka, her abuser immediately raped her again and then gave her £40 to not say anything about the incident. Among the incidents that police recorded were: a 15-year old victim too drunk to recall events being raped by 20 men, one after the other; another victim so drunk that she vomited over the side of the bed as she was being raped by two men. One thirteen-year-old victim had an abortion after becoming pregnant.
Trial and sentences
Some gang members told the court the girls were willing participants, and happy having sex with the men. Their ring-leader, 59-year-old Shabir Ahmed, claimed the girls were "prostitutes" who had been running a "business empire" and it was all "white lies". He shouted in court, "Where are the white people? You have only got my kind here." Shabir Ahmed's threatening behaviour and calling Judge Gerald Clifton a "racist bastard" resulted in him being banned from the court for the sentencing hearing. The Judge described this outburst as "nonsense" and explained that their present predicament was due to their "lust and greed". Judge Clifton told the convicted gang members: "All of you treated your victims as though they were worthless and beyond any respect – they were not part of your community or religion."
The trial concluded in May 2012 with the following convictions:
|Kabeer Hassan||9 years||Rape, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Abdul Aziz||9 years||Trafficking for sexual exploitation, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Abdul Rauf||6 years||Trafficking for sexual exploitation, Conspircay to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Adil Khan||8 years||Trafficking for sexual exploitation, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Mohammed Sajid||12 years||Rape, Sexual activity with a girl under 16, Trafficking for sexual exploitation, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Mohammed Amin||5 years||Sexual assault, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Hamid Safi||4 years||Trafficking for sexual exploitation, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Abdul Qayyum||5 years||Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
|Shabir Ahmed||19 years||Rape, Aiding and abetting a rape, Sexual assault, Trafficking for sexual exploitation, Conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children|
Second sex ring
Following the break up of the first sex ring, in May 2012 the police made arrests in relation to an earlier child sexual exploitation ring in Rochdale. Nine men between 24 and 38-years-old were arrested on suspicion of sexual activity with a child. About a dozen more cases involving Asian Muslims in Northern England are under investigation. A 2012 report by the Deputy children's commissioner said that 33% of child sex abuse by gangs in Britain was committed by Asians, where Asians are 7% of the population, but concluded that it was "irresponsible" to dwell on the data.
Reaction and public debate
The case raised a serious debate about whether the crimes were racially motivated. There were suggestions that police and social work departments failed to act when details of the gang first emerged for fear of appearing racist, and ignored vulnerable white teenagers who were being groomed by Pakistani men. Ann Cryer, who was then the Labour MP for Keighley, recalled in a BBC documentary filmed in 2012 that she had worked with the families of the victims involved, and had been "round at the police station virtually every week" and was "begging" both the police and social services to do something. However, Cryer said, "neither the police nor social services would touch those cases...I think it was they were afraid of being called racist."
Cryer also attempted to reach the Muslim community and persuade them to take action: "I went to a friend of mine, who was a local counsellor and happened to be a Muslim and therefore able to represent me to the elders, because I thought it was a good move to try to get those elders involved. I hoped that I would be able to persuade the elders to go knocking on doors and say 'this behaviour is un-Islamic and I want it to stop because I'm going l tell the whole community about you and what you’re doing if you don’t'. Now they weren’t prepared to do that."
Tim Loughton, the Minister for Children and Families, stated that while there was no evidence that any ethnic communities condoned child sexual abuse, he was concerned that some had been slow to report it to the police, and urged police and social workers not to allow "political correctness around ethnicity" to hinder their work to apprehend such crimes.
Since late 2011 the Office of the Children's Commissioner has been making a two-year inquiry into child sexual exploitation by street gangs. After the sentencing of the Rochdale gang, the UK's Department of Education announced new funding for a specialist foster care scheme to help protect vulnerable children in residential care, as some of those who had been victims of the gang had been.
The Times report of 5 January 2011
A report compiled by The Times and published on 5 January 2011, related to convictions for a particular form of child sex grooming in the North and the Midlands: of the 56 offenders convicted since 1997 for crimes relating to on-street grooming of girls aged 11 to 16, three were white, 53 were Asian of which 50 were Muslim, most were from the British Pakistani community. Furthermore, The Times article alleged: "with the exception of one town there is scant evidence of work being undertaken in British Pakistani communities to confront the problem" of "pimping gangs" largely consisting of "members of the British Pakistani community".
These findings have been questioned by the researchers Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley, from whose work for the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science The Times report had drawn much of its evidence. "The citations are correct but they have been taken out of context," Cockbain told The Independent; "Nor do they acknowledge the small sample size of the original research, which focused on just two large cases." Cockbain and Brayley expressed concern that "findings were being overextended from a small, geographically concentrated sample to characterise an entire crime type".
Coalition for the Removal of Pimping
Hilary Willmer, representing a Leeds-based support group for parents of sexually exploited girls, the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (Crop), was quoted as saying "The vast majority [of] perpetrators are Pakistani Asians", with sources inside Crop claiming a percentage as high as 80 per cent (although, The Independent noted, "Kurdish, Romanian and Albanian gangs were also involved"). Willmer added: "We think this is the tip of the iceberg", though she cautioned against treating the matter as a race crime. "It's a criminal thing." But by May 2012, according to The Independent, Crop had "gone suddenly silent" concerning the percentage of abusers of Asian origin who had come to the organisation's attention: Willmer explained to the paper: "We've been accused of being a cover for the BNP".
Child protection organisations
In 2011 the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre launched a five-month investigation as to whether there was any link between racial profile and the crime of underage grooming. The organisation defined underage grooming as any situation where a child or young person received some gift in exchange for sexual favours. It also drew statistics from such organisations as Barnardo's; however, the findings were considered inconclusive by expert academics since, as a result, not all the figures had been compiled in the same way, and ethnicity had not always been noted with each reported crime. Furthermore, as Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley pointed out, "There is no criminal offence of 'on-street grooming'. Consequently, it is very difficult to measure the extent of this crime based on court statistics." Further research has been pursued since late 2011 by the Office of the Children's Commissioner.
Wendy Shepherd, child sexual exploitation project manager with Barnardo's in the north of England, said that since she started working with the organisation, there has "a shift from the men selling children in ones or twos to something that is much more organised in groups and networks. The networks of men come from different backgrounds: in the North and Midlands many have been British Asians; in Devon it was white men; in Bath and Bristol, Afro-Caribbeans; in London, all ethnic mixes, whites, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Somalis.” She noted that white males who are predators on the street tend to work alone. She added: "The danger with saying that the problem is with one ethnicity is that then people will only be on the lookout for that group – and will risk missing other threats."
The former head of Barnardo's, Martin Narey, said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "For this particular type of crime, the street grooming of teenage girls in northern towns … there is very troubling evidence that Asians are overwhelmingly represented in the prosecutions for such offences." However Narey rejected the idea that such gangs were specifically targeting white girls, but instead suggested vulnerable girls on the street were more likely to be white since Asian girls were subjected to strict parenting and so were more likely to be kept off the streets.
Response from Muslim spokesmen
In a BBC documentary investigating the grooming of young girls for sex by some Pakistani men, Imam Irfan Chishti from the Rochdale Council of Mosques deplored the practice of sex grooming, saying it was "very shocking to see fellow British Muslims brought to court for this kind of horrific offence." Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, accused elders of the Pakistani community of "burying their heads in the sand" on the matter of sexual grooming. He said that of 68 recent convictions involving child sexual exploitation, 59 were of British Pakistani men and it was a significant problem for that community. He said the actions of criminals who thought "white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused" were "bringing shame on our community."
Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chairperson of the Conservative Party, said in an interview with the Evening Standard, that "You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first," and added, "This small minority who see women as second class citizens, and white women probably as third class citizens, are to be spoken out against." She described the Rochdale case as "even more disgusting" than cases of girls being passed around street gangs, as the Rochdale perpetrators "were grown men, some of them religious teachers or running businesses, with young families of their own."
Nazir Afzal, who as the newly appointed chief crown prosecutor decided to bring the case to trial, said that gender, not race, was the key issue: "There is no community where women and girls are not vulnerable to sexual attack and that's a fact."
Protestors from far-right organisations such as the British National Party and English Defence League held demonstrations with placards like:"Our girls are not Halal meat." About ten people were arrested during the protests and defence lawyers complained of intimidation. In another incident around the start of the trial, the involved takeways in Heywood were attacked by about a hundred youths.
Hindu and Sikh objections
Hindu and Sikh groups have objected to media use of "Asian" description saying that the culprits were "almost always of Pakistani origin". They contend that clouding the issue by calling them "Asians" is unfair towards other Asians and is detrimental to a frank discussion.
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