Detectives who brought down a child sex grooming ring are poised to make more arrests – as the hunt continues for more than 40 other suspected members of the gang.
Nine Asian men were yesterday jailed for a total of 77 years for raping and abusing up to 47 girls – some as young as 13 – after plying them with alcohol and luring them to takeaways.
Now police have identified four more suspects alleged to have abused the young witness whose evidence helped secure convictions at the end of the 11-week trial.
But many more remain at large as officers try to establish the real identities of men referred to in court only by nicknames such as Goofy, Ray, Juicy, Arfan, Ali, Manni, Mamma, Pino and Arfan.
The suspected abusers have proved difficult to track down and it is feared some of them have already fled the country.
But police in Greater Manchester have managed to identify four men accused of sexually abusing the main witness at a ‘sex party’ in 2008.
Detectives believe at least one may be in Pakistan. They expect to make arrests in the next few days but are not planning to extend the investigation abroad.
The trial heard that the men – who are all from Pakistan, apart from one who is from Afghanistan – groomed and ‘shared’ the young white girls because they were vulnerable.
Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood, of Greater Manchester Police 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, the gang’s ringleader yesterday branded the judge a ‘racist b******’ after he and eight other men were jailed.
The extraordinary outburst came after Judge Gerald Clinton accused the gang of targeting white girls because they were not part of their ‘community or religion’.
Yesterday senior politicians clashed over the case – with one former Labour MP claiming police and social workers ignored complaints because they were ‘petrified of being called racist’.
With experts on paedophilia insisting street grooming by Muslim men was a real problem, the judge made it clear he believed religion was a factor.
He jailed the 59-year-old ringleader for 19 years and eight other men for between four and 12 years, telling them they had treated their victims ‘as though they were worthless and beyond all respect’.
He added: ‘I believe one of the factors which led to that is that they were not of your community or religion.’
But he branded outbursts by some of the men claiming the prosecution was racially-motivated ‘nonsense’, telling them they found themselves in the dock because of their ‘lust and greed’.
Detective Inspector Michael Sanderson, of Greater Manchester Police, said none of the convicted men had ever shown ‘the slightest bit of remorse’.
They will be segregated from other prisoners over fears of revenge attacks.
They are being sent to prisons all over the country where they were will be placed on wings which house only paedophiles and other sex offenders. One senior prison service source said: ‘They will be given vulnerable prisoner status for their own safety.’
The longest sentence of 19 years was imposed on the 59-year-old ringleader, who cannot be named for legal reasons. After a series of outbursts – including reducing a female juror to tears and insulting prosecutor Rachel Smith – he was banished from the dock.
Yesterday he refused to attend Liverpool Crown Court to hear the judge jail him for rape, aiding and abetting rape, trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child.
Judge Clifton said it was no wonder he had struck fear into his young victims, branding him an ‘an unpleasant, hypocritical bully’.
He said the girls had been raped ‘callously, viciously and violently’ after being attracted by ‘flattery, free food and alcohol’.
He branded allegations that the prosecution was racially-motivated ‘nonsense’ and added: ‘This was triggered by your lust and greed. These sentences would apply to all defendants whether they be white or Asian.’
Two men were acquitted on Tuesday, while a twelfth alleged gang member, Mohammed Shazad, 40, fled to Pakistan last year.
Shazad, 40, was said by the Crown to have organised the ‘sex parties’ at his flat in Jephys Street, Rochdale. He was arrested but jumped bail before the start of the trial and fled to Pakistan last year.
He is said to have paid taxi driver Abdul Aziz, who acted as a pimp, £30 or £40 for bringing girls to his flat for sex.
The prosecution’s main witness said she went to Mr Shazad’s flat on countless occasions and was forced to have sex with him each time. He also took her to another flat where she was forced to have sex with other men, she told the jurors.
Mr Shazad, who is also known as Khan and worked in a chip shop on Spotland Road, Rochdale, is said to have told reluctant girls brought to his flat: ‘No sex, no money’.
Greater Manchester Police investigated a complaint by a 15-year-old victim that she had been raped in 2008, but prosecutors opted not to press charges and the abuse continued.
Police have played down the racial backgrounds of the men, saying the girls – mostly from broken or ‘chaotic’ homes – were targeted because they were vulnerable, not because they were white.
Backing them, Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee, yesterday told the Today programme that highlighting the Pakistani origin of all but one of the gang risked giving ammunition to the far-Right.
But Martin Narey, former chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, told the programme there was a ‘real problem’ which had to be confronted.
‘There is very troubling evidence that Asians are overwhelmingly represented in prosecutions for such offences,’ he said. Mr Narey added that ‘vulnerable girls on the street at night are generally white rather than more strictly-parented Asian girls’.
He was backed by Ann Cryer, a former Labour MP in Keighley, West Yorkshire. She said: ‘This is an absolute scandal.
They (the police and CPS) were petrified of being called racist and so reverted to the default of political correctness. They had a greater fear of being perceived in that light than in dealing with the issues in front of them.’
Kabeer Hassan, 25, of Oldham, was yesterday jailed for nine years for rape and conspiracy.
Abdul Aziz, 41, of Rochdale, was jailed for nine years for conspiracy and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Abdul Rauf, 43, of Rochdale, was jailed for six years for trafficking and conspiracy. Mohammed Sajid, 35, of Rochdale, was jailed for 12 years for conspiracy, rape, sexual activity with a child and trafficking.
Adil Khan, 42, of Rochdale, was jailed for eight years for conspiracy and trafficking.
Mohammed Amin, 45, of Rochdale, was jailed for five years for conspiracy and sexual assault.
Abdul Qayyum, 44, of Rochdale, was jailed for five years for conspiracy.
Failed Afghan asylum seeker Hamid Safi, 22, of Rochdale, was jailed for four years for conspiracy and trafficking.
At least one of the gang is to appeal against his sentence following claims that a mole in the jury room was in contact with the British National Party.
As the jury was making their deliberations under conditions of strict secrecy, BNP leader Nick Griffin tweeted that seven of the defendants had been found guilty.
Urgent inquiries established that he was correct about the jurors’ current thinking, leading defence barristers to allege that one of their number must have been in communication with the extremists.
Mr Griffin later suggested he had heard about the verdicts on Facebook – apparently on the page of far-Right splinter group, Infidels of Great Britain.
The judge rejected a defence application to discharge the jury, saying there was no way details of their deliberations could have leaked out.
But yesterday one of the men’s solicitors insisted his right to a fair trial may have been compromised as a result and an appeal was planned.
Alias Yousaf – whose client, Adil Khan got one of the girls pregnant when she was 13 – said: ‘We are left with no option but to conclude that the confidentiality of the jury’s deliberations must have been breached and we submit the proper inference should be drawn that there must have been improper communication from within the jury room to Nick Griffin and perhaps others.’
He added that it was necessary ‘to identify the perpetrator and to hold them to account for any interference or tampering with the jury’.
Adil Khan, 42, only stopped abusing the child after six months because she got pregnant. The baby was aborted and Khan denied knowing the schoolgirl until police presented DNA evidence that proved he was the father.
In a rebuke to those who had cast aspersions on the jurors, Judge Clifton yesterday praised the ‘painstaking and conscientious’ efforts of all 12, saying the entire nation owed them gratitude.
‘Anybody who may have doubted this jury should bear in mind the way that you have analysed the evidence and returned the verdicts,’ he added.
Mr Yousaf also rounded on Merseyside Police, accusing them of failing to do enough to protect lawyers involved in the case.
They were subjected to intimidation and even violence from far-Right protesters outside Liverpool Crown Court, causing two barristers to withdraw early in the three-month trial.
In response, Assistant Chief Constable Chris Armitt said his force’s high-profile presence outside court – at a cost of around £300,000 – had resulted in ten arrests while facilitating ‘lawful protest’.
Among those held was Liverpool’s National Front mayoral election candidate, Peter Tierney, 55. The antiques dealer was later charged with a public order offence.
Three days into the trial, a 100-strong mob attacked the takeaways in Heywood, near Rochdale, where most of the abuse had taken place. Police were pelted with bricks and windows smashed.