Police and social workers apologised today for not protecting vulnerable schoolgirls who were sexually abused and exploited by a paedophile ring in the UK.
The admissions of failure which saw the girls being drugged and raped when they were supposed to be in the care of the authorities came as a gang of men were found guilty of a catalogue of offences including rape, trafficking and organising prostitution over eight years involving girls as young as 11 in the Oxford area.
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 and a man who cannot be named for legal reasons – were cleared.
The seven men found guilty of offences against the six girls were remanded in custody for sentencing next month.
Zeeshan Ahmed struck out at Mohammed Hussain after Hussain was cleared. He struggled as dock officers lifted him up and out of court.
Police missed several chances to catch gang members before they were finally arrested.
Some victims relived their ordeals during the five month trial, describing how they were groomed, beaten, betrayed and sold into prostitution around the country.
One was still so frightened of her attacker that she refused to give evidence for fear he would hurt her again.
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 a man 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 were 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 nine men mostly of Asian origin in the Cowley area of East Oxford while aged between 11 and 15 over a period of nine years.
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 were able to identify a pattern of grooming.
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 the girls were chosen because they were vulnerable.
He said: “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 to 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.
The men were remanded in custody to June 26.
Judge Peter Rook told them: “You have been convicted of the most serious of offences. Long custodial sentences are inevitable. ”