Eight members of a Rotherham grooming ring have been jailed for between five and 19 years for sexually exploiting and causing “immeasurable and far-reaching harm” to a teenage girl.
The eight men had been found guilty of 19 charges, including rape, indecent assault and false imprisonment of girls as young as 13 between 1999 and 2003.
A Sheffield crown court trial, which ended in October, heard how the men “sexually degraded” their victims, subjecting them “to acts of a degrading and violent nature”.
The men jailed on Friday were Sageer Hussain, 30; Mohammed Whied, 32; Ishtiaq Khaliq, 33; Waleed Ali, 34; Asif Ali, 30; Masoued Malik, 32; Basharat Hussain, 40; and Naeem Rafiq, 33.
The judge, Sarah Wright, said they had caused “severe psychological harm” to their three victims.
The main complainant, now 27 and a campaigner against child sexual exploitation, told the Guardian she felt vindicated after the men were convicted.
“I just couldn’t quite believe it. I felt vindicated. Yet when the verdicts came in, it proved to me that justice could have been done 13 years ago. That could have saved me a lot of heartache,” she said.
The woman, who uses the pseudonym Emma Jackson, said her abusers threatened to “gang rape” her mother if she did not submit to their sexual abuse, which took place largely in an alley behind a branch of Boots in Rotherham town centre, in a park and in bushes near a museum.
Her family were so afraid they moved to Spain after complaining to the police, social services, their MP and the then home secretary, David Blunkett, the court was told.
The woman told jurors that Sageer Hussain – who is of British-Pakistani origin, along with all but one of the other men in the dock – first raped her behind Boots when she was 13 and later called her a “white slag” when she tried and failed to stop him.
She told police that the first and second time he raped her, between 1 January and 4 April 2003, he told her to scream so that his friends, waiting nearby, would know to come and watch. He was found guilty of four counts of rape and one of indecent assault.
After the convictions, the National Crime Agency said it was separately investigating more than 11,100 lines of inquiry relating to non-familial child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003.
Thirty-eight people had been designated “suspects” with many more under investigation, according to the NCA, which is carrying out the independent investigation at the request of South Yorkshire police.
NCA staff have been talking to 133 alleged victims and survivors and have recorded 163 crimes. They have identified 17 distinct investigations under the overall inquiry.
Nine people have been arrested as part of the operation, codenamed Stovewood, with all suspects bailed until November and December, and one organised crime group has been mapped, identifying the nature and scale of its offending. Money laundering, other financial crime and drug-related offences have also been identified.
The operation began after the publication in August 2014 of the Jay report, which said at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period from 1997.
Jackson and the two other victims were in court as Wright jailed their abusers. They sobbed and wiped away tears as their victim impact statements were read to the court.
Their abusers showed no emotion as they were jailed. Sageer Hussain appeared to smirk as he was led away.
Wright said each of their victims were “groomed, coerced and intimidated”. Their abuse was “carefully planned”, she said, adding: “An abuser would build up their trust and it is a common feature of this case that abusers are often described as initially caring and loving but then turning to becoming controlling and domineering.
“Some victims were given alcohol and/or drugs and each of them was given attention. The power that you, the abusers, were then able to have over them meant that the girls distanced themselves from their parents or carers.”
Wright praised the dignity and bravery of the victims and their families.
In a statement read by police outside court, one of the victims urged others to report grooming: “I know grooming still goes on but I feel that the help is available now if you speak out. Groomers thrive in the silence of others. Speak out and someone will listen.”
She added: “If you see a child in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable please report it, [child sexual abuse] is everyone’s issue and we all play a part in stamping it out.”
DCI Martin Tate, senior investigating officer, said: “The rape and sexual abuse of children is completely abhorrent and this group have shown no remorse for their crimes, forcing the young women who came forward to report this awful abuse to relive traumatic experiences before the court.
“We are indebted to the victims, who have supported our investigation and have shown remarkable strength in attending court to give evidence.”