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Friday, 19 October 2018

Huddersfield joins long list of towns incubating a shocking scale of sexual abuse

Written by Dave Higgens

Huddersfield has joined a long list of English towns and cities where the same grim story has emerged of the sexual exploitation of teenage girls on a shocking scale.

The stories of the victims in the Huddersfield prosecution are almost identical to those told in Rochdale, Rotherham, Newcastle, Oxford, Aylesbury, Telford and a host of other places across the country.

These involved girls, sometimes as young as 11 or 12, being groomed and abused by groups of men, often of Pakistani-heritage backgrounds.

In most cases, these were girls from troubled backgrounds, flattered by the attention and who often believed they were in genuine relationships with the men.

But they would be plied with drink and drugs, then raped, subjected to violence, passed between a number of different men and even trafficked across the country and forced into prostitution.

In many of these towns, police and social workers were aware of what was happening to some of the victims but action was not taken due to a range of factors including difficulties in getting the girls to cooperate, a warped belief that they were consenting to what happened to them and misplaced fears over being branded racist.

Concerns over this particular pattern of child sexual exploitation first emerged more than a decade ago - especially when Ann Cryer, then the Labour MP for Keighley, in West Yorkshire, voiced her worries about the targeting of young teenage girls by men in her town.

A few years later, a series of court cases received a small amount of media attention including the jailing of five men in Rotherham in 2010 and another in Derby in the same year.

In the Derby case, the two ringleaders were told they had embarked on a "reign of terror on girls" in the town by a judge who spoke of "young human beings you degraded and treated with a total lack of humanity and respect."

But the full scope of the problem was exposed in January 2011 when The Times published a detailed investigation into a "conspiracy of silence on UK sex gangs".

The Times investigation pulled together more than a dozen prosecutions involving the on-street grooming of teenage girls by groups of men involving 13 different towns and cities.

In 2012 nine men were jailed for a string of sexual offences against girls in Rochdale in a case which received much more attention. Police said as many as 50 girls could have been victims of the gang.

Aspects of the case were later portrayed in the BBC drama, Three Girls.

Later in 2012, The Times published the results of an 18-month investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

This led to the 2014 report by Professor Alexis Jay which provoked a national wave of shock when it revealed more than 1,400 children had been exploited in the town over more than a decade as police and council services ignored what was going on.

The Jay Report and the subsequent Casey Report on the failings of the council led to high-profile resignations and government-appointed commissioners taking over the running of Rotherham.

In 2015 and 2016 a series of men appeared in court following South Yorkshire Police's investigation into what happened in Rotherham and were found guilty of a huge number of sexual offences.

Ringleader Arshid Hussain was jailed for 35 years.

The National Crime Agency's (NCA) Operation Stovewood investigation of historical child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham is ongoing.

In February the NCA said there were 1,510 potential victims and survivors of CSE in the town.

It said officers were actively engaged with more than 260 victims, had identified 110 "designated suspects" and there were 144 officers working on the case - a figure they aimed to boost to more than 200.

Since 2010 a number of other prosecutions have brought different towns into the spotlight.

In 2013, the Old Bailey heard almost identical stories as five men were given life sentences in relation to an exploitation ring in Oxford and in 2015 it was Aylesbury's turn to have exploitation secrets exposed.

Such prosecutions became so commonplace, they began to get less and less media attention until August 2017, when 17 men and one woman were convicted in a series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court.

In this case, Northumbria Police had to face down criticism that they paid a convicted child rapist to be an informant as part of the investigation.

Earlier this year, Telford became the latest town to become the focus of the familiar stories of abuse.

A Sunday Mirror investigation concluded that around 1,000 children could have been sexually exploited in the Shropshire town over a 40-year period, leading to calls for a public inquiry.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stephen Richards / Creative Commons.