It seemed like a fairytale ending to a troubled childhood. After finding herself homeless at the age of 15, she was taken under the wing of a kind middle-aged woman who gave her bed and board in her nearby home in Rotherham.
Karen MacGregor fed and clothed her, was “a good listener” and made her feel welcome and loved, just like a second mother.
But days later, this vulnerable girl woke up in bed to find herself being sexually abused by a man after being plied with vodka.
What began as something “shiny and inviting soon turned horrible,” the girl, known as Girl A, told the police.
Girl B who also spent time as a guest in MacGregor’s house had a similar story of her descent into horrific abuse by several men connected to a taxi firm down the road, who used to hang around the house late at night. “(MacGregor) started telling us: ‘You need to earn your keep’. Karen wanted to pimp everybody out,” she told the court. “Looking back, it was like Hansel and Gretel living at Karen’s.”
Girl A and B are two of the 15 girls who were raped, trafficked, beaten up, and passed around like sex slaves for more than a decade by a gang of men, predominantly of Pakistani origin, who “owned” Rotherham.
The exploitation, which spanned 1987 to 2003, was orchestrated by Arshid Hussain, 40, two of his brothers Basharat and Bannaras along with their uncle Qurban Ali.
On Wednesday, Hussain, was found guilty of 23 counts of rape and indecent assault in addition to false imprisonment, abduction of a girl, and aiding and abetting rape.
Arshid Hussain’s brother Basharat was found guilty of 15 counts including of indecent assault, indecency with a child and threatening to kill a brother of one of his victims. A third Hussain brother, Bannaras, pleaded guilty to 10 offences before the three-month trial started. His pleas can be reported for the first time.
MacGregor, 58,was found guilty of conspiracy to rape, false imprisonment and procuring one of the women to become a common prostitute.Shelley Davies was found guilty of procuring one of the victims to become a common prostitute, and false imprisonment.
One girl was locked up in a room above a restaurant in Blackpool for weeks and forced to have sex with a succession of men to “pay her way”. A 12-year-old was forced to perform sex acts with a group of men in a car after she was picked up from a children’s home. The main victim in the trial was abused by Arshid Hussain almost on a daily basis in churchyards, garages, above a pub.
The grooming was typical. Many of the girls had unsettled home lives, had suffered previous ill treatment or abuse, and some were in local authority care. All were vulnerable to predatory behaviour.
They were offered “sweets and pop”, mobile phones, perfume, and, later, hard drugs. Many of the girls thought the abuse was normal behaviour and that their abusers loved them. “I was in a car on my own. I was a 12-year-old girl. I just thought it is what I had to do,” said one of the girls picked up by Basharat Hussain from a children’s home at 12 and forced to perform oral sex on three men after he treated her to a meal. Another thought it was happy ever after with Arshid Hussain, she didn’t know he was married, or that he was abusing a string of other girls. Some continued to see their abusers when in prison. Others were lured into their criminal activities handling guns and drugs.
Some of the girls suffered horrific violence, one had cigarettes stubbed out on her body, another was blindfolded and had petrol poured on her feet. When one of the victims tried to find a safe house to escape, her abuser threatened to kill her brother. He also told her he had a policeman on the inside so he would always know how to find her. Another girl, who had been abused since she was seven by various step-fathers was preyed on by Arshid and Basharat Hussain who would visit her at home and force her into sexual acts.
Five of the girls became pregnant, two at the age of 14. Two of them gave birth. One has a son by Arshid Hussain, whose brother warned the girl not to go ahead with the pregnancy as he already he had seven children by different English women around the country and didn’t even know their names.
The horrendous abuse mirrors cases elsewhere in the country and is part of a suspected wider pattern of abuse in the town whose reputation was shattered in August 2014 when Prof Alexis Jay concluded in a report that as many as 1,400 children were exploited in Rotherham over a 16-year period.
The Rotherham case highlights the collective failure of police, social services and the local council to act despite repeated complaints from the girls. The catalogue of missed opportunities scream loud and clear from 51 pages of “agreed facts” that supported the trial in Sheffield crown court.
They raise specific questions about Child Protection Services, Rotherham council, South Yorkshire Police and the probation services. For instance there are records of the discovery of three adult men at 12.45am in the bedroom of a girl in a care home. The men were not arrested.
The agreed facts show, at best, an alarming level of police indifference in relation to these vulnerable children, several of whom had drug and alcohol problems and who were from broken homes.