Wednesday 23 May 2018

Newcastle grooming gang 'did not target white girls because of their race', judge rules

Left to right, row by row: Abdul Sabe, Habibur Rahim, Badrul Hussain, Abdul Hamid, Jahanger Zaman, Monjur Choudhury, Taherul Alam, Mohammed Ali, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Azram, Yassar Hussain, Saiful Islam, Eisa Mousavi, Prabhat Nelli, Mohibur Rahman, Nashir Uddin, Redwan Siddquee, Carolann Gallon
Left to right, row by row: Abdul Sabe, Habibur Rahim, Badrul Hussain, Abdul Hamid, Jahanger Zaman, Monjur Choudhury, Taherul Alam, Mohammed Ali, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Azram, Yassar Hussain, Saiful Islam, Eisa Mousavi, Prabhat Nelli, Mohibur Rahman, Nashir Uddin, Redwan Siddquee, Carolann Gallon

Lizzie Dearden

A grooming gang that preyed on vulnerable girls and young women in Newcastle did not target their victims by race or religion, a judge has ruled.

The former director of public prosecutions, Lord McDonald, claimed the abuse of white women by predominantly Asian men was a “profoundly racist” crime after the scandal was revealed last month.

But while sentencing members of the gang at Newcastle Crown Court, Judge Penny Moreland said they picked out their victims “not because of their race, but because they were young, impressionable, naive and vulnerable”.

She added: “This is extremely serious offending against vulnerable members of society and that is the basis on which I intend to sentence."

The court had heard how teenagers and young women were groomed and given alcohol and drugs, before being coerced or forced into sex in Newcastle’s West End.

Prosecutor John Elvidge QC said the victims who gave evidence in court were all "white British".

But the ethnicity of other potential targets was not known, he said, and one vulnerable girl who did not engage with police was black, and an Asian girl was seen at a party.

Mr Elvidge added that targets were selected because of their vulnerability, with the groomers believing their circumstances and other factors like drug dependence made them less likely to go to police.

“There is no evidence the defendants expressed any racial malice to the complainants,” he added.

Read More: 'Grooming gang made me feel like piece of meat' - Sex abuse victim tells court

One defendant, who was not sentenced on Tuesday, once told a female ticket inspector: “All white women are only good for one thing.

“For men like me to f*** and use like trash. That’s all women like you are worth.”

Two members of the gang were jailed at Tuesday's hearing and sentencing will continue on Wednesday.

Jahangir Zaman, 45, of Hadrian Road in Newcastle, was jailed for 29 years after being convicted of raping a girl by forcing her to perfrom oral sex.

The drug dealer was also found guilty of conspiracy to incite prostitution, drugs offences, and following a separate police investigation, conspiracy to supply heroin and cocaine.

His privately-educated associate Mohammed Azram was jailed for 12 years and six months.

The 35-year-old, from Croydon Road in Newcastle, picked up girls from a courtyard in the city's West End known as “The Box”.

One victim said he took her to a party where she saw another girl, who did not make a complaint to the police, being treated like a slave.

Prosecutors said Azram, who married in Pakistan, played a “leading role” in the conspiracy.

The abuse dates back several years and was only revealed by an investigation codenamed Operation Shelter that started in 2014 after two victims separately came forward to police.

Northumbria Police defended the decision to pay a former child rapist almost £10,000 to spy on defendants’ movements to and from “sex parties” where vulnerable girls and young women were given drugs and alcohol and abused.

Juries heard how the men would often threaten their victims with violence if they did not take part in sexual activity with them, while others were assaulted when they were incapacitated and unable to resist.

Read More: Child sex grooming ring exposed in Newcastle: Child rapist paid £10,000 by police to 'watch over' girls at parties

A total of 17 men and one woman have been convicted of offences including rape, sexual abuse, supplying drugs and trafficking for sexual exploitation in a series of trials.

Police said the convicts were mainly “not white” but came from a diverse range of backgrounds including Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Iranian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish, Albanian and Eastern European.

Local authorities rejected claims of “political correctness” influencing the probe – an accusation that was levelled at Rotherham Council by Theresa May during her time as Home Secretary.

Steve Ashman, the Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, said a wider investigation throughout the North East called Operation Sanctuary had identified 700 potential victims of sexual exploitation.

He told The Independent that his officers’ work was not impacted by religion, race or nationality, adding: “We’re not politically correct, I don’t care about the background of individuals: we find them, we arrest them and we put them behind bars.”

Newcastle City Council’s director or people, Ewen Weir, who is responsible for social services, said he had seen no evidence of racial or religious motivations.

“There are men from all sorts of backgrounds, including white men, in this,” he added.

“In terms of religion, I’ve seen no evidence personally that it is a big driver and I think it’s over-simplistic to claim otherwise.”

The scandal sparked intense public debate last month, resulting in Rotherham MP Sarah Champion being forced to resign as the shadow equalities minister after writing an opinion piece in The Sun that appeared under the headline: “British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls – and it’s time we face up to it.”

Lord Macdonald, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said there was “a serious issue about the way that young women are regarded in these cases—regarded as trash, regarded as available for sex”.

“This seems to be a recurring theme,” he added. “This is a major problem in particular communities and it has to be confronted not just by law enforcement but by communities themselves.”

Dipu Ahad, Newcastle councillor, told The Independent local Muslims were “absolutely disgusted” by the crimes and feared a possible backlash.

“We need to challenge deep-rooted issues in the community, where some men looking at women – not just white women – in a way that’s not acceptable,” Mr Ahad added, while accusing racists of trying to “exploit exploitation”.

Far-right groups have seized on the Newcastle case to vindicate a long-running narrative claiming a widespread conspiracy among Muslim men and certain immigrant groups to target white women.

The scale of the abuse has been compared to similar cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford, with the chief executive of Newcastle council warning that exploitation could be “happening in every town and city across the country”.

“What’s different here in Newcastle is that we are going out and looking for it,” Pat Ritchie said.

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