Gang To Be Sentenced Over Child Sex Crimes

Nine men will be sentenced later after they were found guilty of being part of a child exploitation ring that groomed underage girls for sex by plying them with alcohol and drugs.

Eleven men were charged with a range of offences including sexual assault, trafficking and rape.

Their victims were as young as 13. One of the 13-year-olds became pregnant and had the child aborted.

Police said one girl was forced to have sex with 20 men in one night when she was drunk.

Five girls were "shared" by Kabeer Hassan, Abdul Aziz, Abdul Rauf, Mohammed Sajid, Adil Khan, Abdul Qayyum, Mohammed Amin, Hamid Safi and a 59-year-old man who cannot be named for legal reasons.

:: Read profiles of the gang members

Liaquat Shah, 41, was cleared of sexual assault by the jury and was cleared of conspiracy after the jury was unable to agree a verdict and the prosecution offered no further evidence.

Qamar Shahzad, 30, was found not guilty of conspiracy.

It took the jury of three men and nine women 21 hours and 22 minutes to reach all their verdicts.

A tweet from BNP leader Nick Griffin almost caused the trial to collapse when it led to allegations of the jury having a "far-right bias".

The trial at Liverpool Crown Court took 11 weeks and heard from victims and the defendants themselves.

The prosecution's case was that the men worked together as a group to secure for themselves and others underage girls for sex.

The offences happened in and around Rochdale in 2008 and 2009.

It was claimed that the men drove the young girls around parts of Greater Manchester and delivered them to flats and houses where men were waiting to have sex with them.

Police said the victims were from "chaotic" and "council estate" backgrounds.

The girls were targeted in "honeypot locations" where young people were seen to congregate, such as outside takeaways.

Some of the victims told the jury that they were threatened with violence if they did not submit to their demands.

They said they were lured in with free cigarettes, alcohol and food.

But some of the defendants told the court that the girls were willing participants, and were happy to have sex with the men in return for money.

Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service have apologised for failing to bring the case of the first victim to trial following her cry for help in August 2008.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is spearheading an investigation into that botched inquiry .

The case has also raised racial tensions in the north-west - further heightened by far-right protests outside the court during the trial.

Commenting on the case, Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood denied that it was about race.

He said: "It is not a racial issue. This is about adults preying on vulnerable young children. It just happens that in this particular area and time the demographics were that these were Asian men.

"However, in large parts of the country we are seeing on-street grooming, child sexual exploitation happening in each of our towns and it isn't about a race issue."

He added: "The street grooming issue is about vulnerability and who has access to that vulnerability."

A spokeswoman for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre said child sexual exploitation spanned "all cultures and ethnicities".

One MP warned that blaming a particular race or religion for grooming young girls for sex risked opening up a "Pandora's box" over race relations.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and Labour MP for Leicester East, said: "There is no excuse for this kind of criminality, whoever is involved in it, but I don't think it is a particular group of people, I don't think it's a particular race or religion.

"It's totally wrong to say that it is, because you open up a Pandora's box as far as race relations is concerned and I don't think that's necessarily what we want."

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Manchester-based
moderate Muslim youth group, paid tribute to the bravery of the victims, adding: "Without their contribution justice would not have been possible."

He said: "Today's guilty verdicts are to be welcomed and I hope the message goes out
that if you engage in these crimes, you will be caught and brought to justice.

"These criminals have brought shame on themselves, their families and our community."