The Asian sex grooming scandal in Rotherham continues: Now a court has given lifetime anonymity to four men who preyed on a vulnerable girl for years. What IS going on?
- Rotherham Council sought to prevent ‘Child G’ sex abuse by four men
- The girl is vulnerable and comes from an impoverished and broken home
- In 2012, her situation came to attention of social workers and it was feared she was involved in inappropriate relationships with many older Asian men
- She was found in August in a hotel with condoms, drugs and an Asian man
- Two men, known as LL and MM, were arrested on suspicion of trafficking’
A strange and troubling drama reached its conclusion behind the red-brick façade of the Civil Hearing Centre in Leeds on Tuesday, involving two QCs (both publicly funded), a High Court judge, several more barristers and solicitors, four Asian men and a vulnerable white girl in her teens known only as ‘Child G’.
The case was highly delicate: Rotherham Council was seeking to prevent this girl, who lives in the South Yorkshire town, from what it believed was the very real risk of sex abuse and exploitation at the hands of the four men.
Child G’s tale stretched back to early childhood when she was born into a chaotic, impoverished and broken home. According to the judge, Mr Justice Cobb, she had suffered ‘physical, emotional and sexual abuse from different quarters over a number of years’.
2012, her situation came to the attention of social workers after she’d persistently played truant and run away from home, and was found to be regularly self-harming and taking drugs. By 2014, it was feared she was also involved in inappropriate and perhaps illegal relationships with a number of older Asian men.
In particular, the teenager (then still under the age of consent) embarked on what Justice Cobb called ‘personal and sexual relationships’ with three of the four individuals at the centre of this week’s proceedings.
Even more worryingly, the adult men soon began to be physically abusive towards her.
Police were told, for example, that two of them had assaulted her, while one had also ‘caused criminal damage’ to her home. At one point, according to Justice Cobb, Child G told officers that she was particularly ‘fearful’ of one of the men, who had a criminal record for ‘offences associated with drugs and violence’.
For a while, therefore, Rotherham Council used the Children’s Act to take her off the streets and into secure accommodation.
But matters came to a head on August 12 when Child G went missing. After a brief search, police found the teenager in a cheap hotel, alongside one of the three older men, who was referred to in court as LL.
‘Among the items found with them in the hotel were vodka, cannabis, condoms and Asian female clothing,’ said the judge.
Police quickly established that another older man, referred to as MM, had visited the hotel earlier that day, before leaving.
Brothers Arshid (left), 40, and Basharat Hussain (right), 39, were convicted of multiple rapes and indecent assaults on teenagers in the South Yorkshire town in February
There was no record of the girl having previously met MM, leading to serious concerns about what he might have being doing at the hotel, and the judge said that ‘officers attending at the scene believed that she was the victim of child sexual exploitation’.
The police, he added, decided to immediately arrest both LL and MM ‘on suspicion of trafficking’.
Temporary injunctions were immediately sought and obtained preventing all four of the Asian men from seeking to contact the girl, who was taken to a safe house.
This month, some 60-odd days later, Rotherham Council was — quite understandably — seeking to have the temporary injunctions made permanent at the family court hearing in Leeds.
To that end, proceedings began last Wednesday.
However, they almost immediately took a series of odd and deeply worrying turns, and the case would soon end in disarray, at huge cost to the taxpayer, with the Asian men once more allowed to fraternise with Child G.
Bannaras Hussain, 36, admitted ten charges – including rape, indecent assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm in February
We shall consider these events in proper detail later. First, though, a crucial point: that on the streets of Rotherham, the troubling story of Child G happens also to be appallingly common.
For the town has been at the centre of a notorious child-grooming scandal, which since the late Nineties has seen an estimated 1,400 underage girls raped, sexually abused and, in some cases, forced into prostitution, usually by gangs of much older British-Pakistani men.
Like Child G, the vast majority of these tragic victims are white, working class, and emotionally vulnerable, with dysfunctional family backgrounds.
Typically aged 11 or 12 when first targeted, the stories of their abuse tend to be strikingly similar.
Usually they begin with the girl being befriended by an older Asian teenager in a local park or shopping centre, or even at the school gate.
Flattered by the attention, the girl agrees to exchange phone numbers. Messages are shared and a relationship — soon sexual — ensues.
Before long, the older man starts plying his underage victim with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and other ‘rewards’. After a time, he frequently decides to coerce her into sleeping with adult friends and members of his extended family.
Eventually, he may even demand payment in exchange for allowing acquaintances to sleep with her, effectively turning the girl into a child prostitute.
In case after case, young girls caught up in such relationships have ended up being subjected to more serious abuse: beaten, driven hundreds of miles to be sexually abused by groups of men they barely know, set on fire. At least one has been murdered.
Other crimes identified in official investigations, including a damning 2014 report by Alexis Jay — recently named as the latest head of the Government’s troubled inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse — have included ‘rape with a broken bottle and girls being ordered to kiss perpetrators feet at gunpoint’.
For the hundreds of victims, the trauma of such abuse was for years compounded by the apparent indifference of Rotherham Council, social services and police force to crimes happening under their nose.
Social workers first identified the problem of Asian gangs targeting troubled white girls in the late Nineties. But a climate of political correctness in the Labour-run town meant that they refused to take it seriously, for fear of being called ‘racist’.
Also, it is suspected that Labour politicians don’t want to offend the Pakistani community, who form a sizeable proportion of their voters.
Over ensuing years, evidence was shamefully withheld from official inquiries. Reports detailing the problem, including a hard-hitting one in 2002 by a lawyer called Adele Weir, were buried by the authorities. Critical case files were lost or stolen, including a crucial tranche which disappeared from the office of a local youth charity called Risky Business in an unsolved burglary.
Even when underage girls approached the police or social workers for help, they were often dismissed as ‘slags’ or — since they looked older than their years — treated as hardened prostitutes.
In 2013, its former deputy leader, Jahangir Akhtar, was forced to resign after it emerged that he’d brokered a deal with police in which a violent offender who’d impregnated a missing 14-year-old girl would go unpunished provided he handed her over at a petrol station.
The offender, who was later jailed for multiple child sex offences, turned out to be a relation of Akhtar.
When Jay’s highly critical report was published in 2014 — tearing shreds out of council staff who were afraid to raise ‘ethnic issues … for fear of being thought racist’ — Rotherham found itself caught up in a national scandal.
Since then, two major court cases have seen some of the worst offenders punished, with 12 men and two women convicted so far.
In one, which ended in February, six members of a gang led by three brothers — Arshid, Basharat and Banaras Hussain (aged 40, 39 and 36 respectively) — were jailed for a total of 102 years, after being found guilty of 52 offences against 15 teenage girls.
During the trial, jurors were told of a shocking incident when police discovered Banaras Hussain receiving oral sex from a teenage girl in a town centre car park, but ignored it.
‘When, shortly afterwards, a police car pulled up alongside them and asked what was going on, Banaras Hussain shouted “She’s just sucking my c**k, mate”. The police car drove off,’ the court was told.
A fortnight ago, another eight men were found guilty of 19 charges related to the abuse of three teenagers. The main complainant, now grown up, had been 13 years old when she was ‘subjected to acts of a degrading and violent nature’.
The ringleader, 30-year-old Sageer Hussain, was the brother of Arshid, Basharat and Banaras. He played a key role in ‘befriending young girls’ who were then ‘passed to his friends, elder brothers, and associates’.
Girls like Katie (pictured) were among the 1,400 children abused in Rotherham over 16 years
Fast forward to last week and with the future of Child G, who is now in her late teens, at stake, Rotherham Council hired a QC, Frances Heaton, and a second junior barrister to argue that the four Asian men ought to continue to be prevented from contacting her.
Also in the family court that day were legal representatives of South Yorkshire Police, including Cathryn McGahey, a QC, and a second barrister, along with a second police barrister representing the vulnerable girl.
In addition to these publicly funded lawyers, there were also two journalists in court: one from The Times, the other from the Press Association.
No sooner had proceedings kicked off than Heaton, the counsel for Rotherham Council, asked for everyone apart from Child G’s barrister to be removed from the room — including, crucially, the journalists — so she could conduct a secret meeting with the judge.
This meeting, later chronicled in Mr Justice Cobb’s ruling, saw Heaton announce that ‘having considered with South Yorkshire Police the evidence filed for the final hearing, [her client] no longer considered it appropriate to pursue its applications for the injunctions’.
In other words, having brought an extremely important case to court, at huge expense to the taxpayer, Rotherham Council was, at the last minute, seeking to drop it due to a supposed lack of evidence.
The Hussain brothers’ uncle, Qurban Ali (left) from Rotherham was also found guilty of conspiracy to rape in February. Shelley Davies, (right) 40, was found guilty of conspiracy to procure prostitutes and false imprisonment
So what on Earth was going on?
It is hard to be entirely sure, though one possible explanation emerged after reporters were allowed back into court.
At this point, having abandoned its efforts to prevent the Asian men from seeing Child G, Rotherham Council said that it would like all four of them to be granted lifelong anonymity.
What is more, the council (supported by South Yorkshire police) wanted its arguments in support of this bid to be heard in private, with newspapers banned from reporting them.
Here, they were out of luck: Mr Justice Cobb said he regarded that level of secrecy, over a case which carried huge public interest, as ‘unnecessary’.
However, on the other count, Rotherham got its wish: on Tuesday, the judge controversially ruled that the men’s identities should be kept secret for ever, on the grounds that naming them might lead to the identification of the girl.
Karen MacGregor (pictured) took in girls from children’s homes in Rotherham purporting to give them a safe haven and support – only to then have them abused
The judge also said there was a risk that ‘given the strength of feeling in Rotherham about those who engage in child sexual exploitation, they would be pilloried and/or targeted in their communities’.
All of which means that Rotherham Council has just spent four days in court pursuing an extremely expensive legal case which had only one substantive outcome: preventing the Press from naming four Asian men suspected of inappropriate relations with a very vulnerable teenage girl.
No one is able to explain why they so suddenly abandoned their — on paper, very sensible — attempt to prevent the four men from ever contacting this Child G.
It is a shambolic state of affairs, which cost a huge sum and may have left the vulnerable girl more, rather than less, at risk than she was previously.
Significantly, in this context, the judge criticised a ‘failure of collective responsibility’ by the police and the council to ‘work in partnership’ on the case.
‘If they didn’t have enough evidence even to try to pursue the case, or even to ask the judge to keep the four men away from this girl, why did they let it get so far?’ asks one observer of proceedings.
‘What was really going on? How much did this all cost? And why did they try to keep everything secret?
The truth is that it’s impossible to be entirely sure.
In a statement, Rotherham Council blamed the complex nature of such litigation, saying: ‘Work with young people who are at risk of or experiencing child sexual exploitation is very complex, and solutions are often difficult to achieve, particularly where the young person is at the age of consent and is unable to recognise potentially exploitative situations.’
One source with knowledge of proceedings says the bid to prevent the four Asian men contacting Child G was dropped because Rotherham’s legal team discovered, as they were walking into court, that the council’s request wouldn’t be supported by South Yorkshire Police.
‘Quite why the council’s in-house solicitors never bothered to speak about this with their colleagues from the police until moments before they turned up in court, I will never know,’ the source says.
Yet other, cynically minded observers wonder if the case was also dropped in order to avoid Press scrutiny.
Recent history in Rotherham certainly suggests a theme here.
For Rotherham Council has repeatedly smeared and undermined news organisations which have attempted to shed light on child sex grooming in the town.
The ugly scandal was first properly reported in 2010, by the Mail’s Sue Reid, who following a shocking court case in which five local men of Asian origin were jailed, wrote a report on the ‘troubling taboo’ of such exploitation.
Disgracefully, Reid was called a liar and a racist, and accused of making up stories that had, in fact, been told to her by victims and their families.
In 2012, a number of police and social service files, detailing awful abuse of girls in Rotherham, were then published by The Times newspaper.
In response, South Yorkshire police accused the paper of exploiting victims.
Rotherham Council, for its part, had previously attempted to obtain a gagging order preventing a Times story from being published.
When that failed, they complained of a ‘politically motivated’ attack on a Labour council by the Right-wing Press. They then launched an inquiry — not to examine its own misconduct, but to find and punish the source of the leak.
A report has found evidence of widespread abuse of vulnerable white underage girls in Rotherham by asian gangs, and a formidable failure by police and social services to protect the victims
It was not until August 2013, when The Times published the story of a girl called Jessica, who before her 16th birthday had been twice impregnated by a convicted criminal allowed daily contact with her by Rotherham’s social services, that a proper investigation, the Jay Inquiry, was ordered.
With this in mind, the former Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has campaigned against secrecy in the family courts, smells a rat about recent events.
‘Rotherham has a track record of trying to stifle Press scrutiny of what they are up to, and have often behaved as if their priority is covering their backs, rather than protecting children from sexual exploitation. Whatever their agenda in this particular case, they have spent an enormous amount of money on a legal process which achieved very little in terms of protecting a vulnerable girl.’
Following the Jay Inquiry’s publication two years ago, council leader Roger Stone, chief executive Martin Kimber and director of children’s services Joyce Thacker all quit, and councillors resigned en masse.
South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, who had been councillor in charge of Rotherham’s children’s services from 2005 to 2010, quit three weeks later.
Since then, massive resources have been put into hunting down the men who abused girls with impunity in Rotherham for so many years. A National Crime Agency operation, Operation Stovewood, expected to run for around eight years and costing £30 million, is pursuing 91 offences involving 82 victims. A total of 69 officers were said to be on the inquiry this summer, with funding for another 48 approved by the Home Office.
Their work is supposed to ensure that girls in Britain never suffer at the hands of such evil men again.
Yet vulnerable teenagers are still finding themselves in the sights of Rotherham’s vile gangs. And this week’s court case shows that, despite everything that has happened, the local authorities would appear to be far better at gagging the Press than they are at protecting innocent victims such as Child G.