The judge who jailed a Banbury torture gang for 35 years took the unusual step of lifting reporting restrictions enabling the youngest member of the gang to be named.
It followed an application from the Oxford Mail for the gagging order to be lifted. Judge Nigel Daly sided with the newspaper, lifting the restriction and saying that naming him would have a 'deterrent effect' on others tempted to commit similar crimes.
'Polite' young man
To everyone who knew him, Argest Sallaj was a polite young man who had ‘grafted’ hard after his father received a cancer diagnosis in order to help support his family.
He worked long hours – possibly longer than he was allowed to given his age, his barrister Julian Lynch told Oxford Crown Court on Friday.
But there was clearly another side to Sallaj.
On the night of June 21 last year he was summoned to a flat in Britannia Wharf, Banbury, but his older friend Sonny Weir.
The older man told Sallaj down the phone to come over and ‘beat the s*** out of this girl’.
And that is what he did.
Although not involved in the torture ordeal for between 12 and 16 hours, as Weir, Natasha Washington and Alexander Azevedo were, he threw himself into the bullying violence the terrified victim was forced to endure.
Sallaj, then just 16, ‘booted’ her as she was on all fours on the ground having been told to clean up. He used a dish scourer on her skin.
As part of the gang, he flicked cigarette ash at her.
She feared that she would be killed and her body dumped in the countryside. The teen said they could ‘get a van’ and ‘take her out to the woods and kill her’.
At his trial earlier this year, jurors cleared him of some of the most serious offences he faced – urinating on the victim and pouring boiling water on her shod foot. He was convicted of false imprisonment and a number of assaults.
He was not present in the flat for the end of the incident, when Azevedo raped her in the living room then – later – Weir and Washington tied the woman to a chair and beat her.
As a 17-year-old, Sallaj was protected by reporting restrictions preventing the press or members of the public from publishing anything that might identify him as being involved in the case.
Following the trial, the Oxford Mail made an application for these restrictions to be lifted when he was sentenced.
And at the end of a two hour sentencing hearing on Friday, Judge Nigel Daly did just that. He told the court: “I have to consider whether it is in the public interest. I have to balance the need for open reporting of crime and the welfare of the child.”
He said Sallaj, who is now three months shy of his 18th birthday, had been ‘pretty much fully involved’ in the events of the night. Naming him would act as a deterrent to others and there was ‘no real evidence’ before him that it would have a negative impact on his rehabilitation.
This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.
To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk
Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward