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Rochdale Groomers

Crime Files
Rochdale Groomers

“It’s very clear that abusers in Rochdale were laughing.”Jon Brown, NSPCC“The people that should have been looking after these girls were effectively turning a blind eye to rape.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghost Writer of ‘Girl A: My Story’Lily is born into a world of drink and drug abuse. She tries to block out much of the ‘hectic’ life around her, certain only of one thing: She is unloved. By the age of 11, she’s already lost her father and her mother’s become an alcoholic. But, unbelievably, the next five years of her life will be far, far worse. Due to her mother’s deteriorating condition, Lily is placed with a foster carer. But, feeling unwanted, she often simply stays out, all day, and as long into the night as she can.A 19 year old guy, known to her foster carer, invites the eleven year old Lily to a family event. As he knows her foster carer to chat and say hello to, Lilly accepts the invitation.

Once there, he gives her drink and then takes her into a bedroom;“…he started kissing me…I felt really good because it was like the first time I’d felt loved.”What she believes her first intimacy, is in fact, her first sexual assault. She innocently tells her Foster Carer who promptly tells the Police and Rochdale Social Services. The experience deeply confuses the already very damaged little girl.“When the police came round…I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know anything was wrong - no one really explained to me…social services, they just left me.”Aged 13, Lily is allowed to move back in with her mum. But feeling less like a daughter, and more like a carer to her still alcohol dependent mother, Lily seeks comfort from other adults. She finds some older men are all too willing to freely give her attention, compliments, and cigarettes, and alcohol. They appear to care for her and Lily desperately needs that. But they’re not interested in Lily. Only in her sex.

ABDUL HUK aka SAJ Abdul Huk is a 32 year old taxi driver. When Lily is just 15, when she’s walking out of school, he approaches her. He asks if she’s ok. Abdul appears to be concerned which Lily says, ‘felt nice because it was that care that I wasn’t receiving anywhere else.’He offers to take her home and only asks in exchange to swap phone numbers.Abdul Huk is grooming Lily.A couple of weeks pass. He rings Lily and asks to see her. He drives her up an alley near the big church in Rochdale. "We just parked there. And then did like foreplay.” This encounter is the start of many. Each time, as he picks her up, he gives her a cigarette as she gets in. And then after, after the ‘foreplay’, he gives her the rest of the packet.“I didn’t really see it as the time, but now that I’m older and looking back, it seems a bit like payment.”Lily starts hanging out with another Asian male and she begins to receive phone calls off men she doesn’t know. They invite her to come round. When she does, a now familiar exchange of cigarettes and alcohol in return for sex follows. “I felt like it was my boyfriend and that’s what you do - plus, they’d brought me beer so you know, (you) can’t really say no.” FREDDY KENDUKUMANAStill not even at the age of consent, aged just 15, Lily now believes herself in a relationship with a 22-year-old man, a Congolese refugee called Freddy Kendukumana. At first, Lily believes he is special, he is the one. She believes they are partners.That all changes when she tries to refuse him sex.“I said ‘no’ and then he didn’t take no for an answer…if he wanted something it was either ‘yes’ or it happen in a bad way…he started becoming violent, started hitting me.”Only after Lily discusses her relationship with a sexual health worker does she realise she’s been raped.But when Lily reports Freddy to the police, it appears to her that they’re not interested. So Lily returns to the men who are very interested in a 15 year old girl.ROHEEZ KHANLily is now in a relationship with a 23-year-old Rochdale man, a takeaway worker called Roheez Khan. Lily goes on holiday with her mum during the summer of 2009.During this break, and approaching her 16th birthday, she decides to break away from Roheez - and others like him.But when she returns, she finds Roheez will do nearly anything to stop her leaving him.“…he’d smash my windows, he made threats, he said he was gonna to plant drugs in my house…It was really terrifying and the longer I tried to break away the worse it got.”

GIRL A Lily is not the only girl abused in this way in the Rochdale area. There is also another child, known only, for legal reasons, as Girl A. But in one brutal encounter, the childhood of Girl A will be ripped away. SHABIR AHMED Shabir Ahmed is just 14 when he first comes to Britain in 1967. To his later victims, his nickname is the ‘Daddy’. In 2008, Girl A accuses the now 55 year-old Shabir Ahmed of rape. But like Lily, the allegations of Girl A appear not be taken seriously.Later investigations would indicate that not only was Shabir Ahmed indeed a rapist, but that he was, in fact, a ringleader of a large grooming gang.One judge describes him as a ‘violent hypocritical bully’.When, in June 2012, Shabir Ahmed is also convicted of 30 charges of rape of a young Asian girl for over a decade, as the jury returns their unanimous guilty verdicts, he smirks. After his convictions, Home Secretary Theresa May decides to strip him of his citizenship. But in February 2016, the 63 year-old convicted child sex offender launches an appeal against his deportation. He believes his trial was ‘institutionally racist.’ He subsequently loses his appeal.NAZIR AFZAL This Birmingham born boy takes and absorbs his childhood experiences of being bullied and racially abused - his father was Pashtun - and determines to pursue a career in law. He’s later awarded an OBE in 2005 for his services to law and the local community. And he makes history when he becomes the first Muslim to be appointed the Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England in 2011. During his time as a crown prosecutor, he is responsible for more than 100,000 prosecutions a year.Perhaps one of his most important, and certainly high profile, is his decision to overturn a Crown Prosecution Service decision not to prosecute Shabir Ahmed. It leads to the exposure of the sex trafficking of children on an organised scale that was thought beforehand to be inconceivable. He attributed his success, in a newspaper interview, as partly due to his Pashtun background. “My Pakistani heritage helped cut through barriers within the black and minority ethnic communities…white professionals’ oversensitivity to political correctness and fear of appearing racist may well have contributed to justice being stalled.”

The Aftermath

Never again

In November 2013, Greater Manchester Police apologise to Lily, the 15 year old girl that reported her rape to them in 2008. And for the failings which “led to children being put back in the hands of their abusers”. After reporting rape, her rapist, Freddie Kendakumana, had not been charged for another four years.Formal management action has now been given to two of the officers involved.  On the same day that Lily’s abusers are sentenced, a serious case review into the issue is published. It finds a catalogue of failings by a variety of agencies that has allowed a generation of underage girls to fall prey to grooming gangs.  

Life for Lily, after the trials, has not been easy. In 2013, she was said to be still on medication and being treated for anxiety and depression. But she’s still glad that she eventually did get justice against the men who raped her though she found the abusive judicial process so appalling that even if she was attacked again, almost unbeliveably, she says she wouldn’t report it to the police:“…if I walked down the street now and I was raped, I wouldn’t go to the police, not because of the police just because I wouldn’t put myself through being re-victimised again and again and again.” Lily, Lily, amazingly, is determined, however, not to be defined by being a victim: “I don’t want to be reminded of being that vulnerable girl who couldn’t defend herself…I want to be remembered for things like helping people.” This, from a girl whose courage and determination has already helped countless children.  For not only did victims like Lily lead to swathes of investigations and convictions of grooming gangs, her experiences of the court system lead to sweeping changes in the treatment of victims and witnesses:“After Rochdale the law changed. We put in place guidance for prosecutors, guidance for police officers, new support mechanisms for victims…It’s difficult to underestimate how much has changed which did not exist back in 2012.”Nazir Afzal, Former Chief Crown Prosecutor, NW EnglandAnd as well as ensuring that victims are more fairly treated, greater attempts are being made to deny groomers easy access to society’s most vulnerable:“We talk to hotels We train hotel receptionists, we go into ice-cream parlours and shisha bars, we go anywhere that we think young people might be a target for someone to groom them. And that’s something that didn’t happen 10 years ago.”Gail Hopper, Director of Children’s Services, Rochdale Council 

False Claims of Race as a Factor

For some in the United Kingdom, already sickened by Savile and the exposure of systemic child abuse, the fact that these sexual predators were largely Pakistanis was unduly seized upon.To do so, as Nazir Afzal explains, is to make a fundamental mistake. “…they see Asians doing it and they forget that actually the vast majority of sex offenders are British White Males. So that to my mind is the danger of just profiling victims and profiling defendants. They come from all communities and from all societies.”Nazir Afzal, Former Chief Crown Prosecutor, NW England,As the judge said to the men who abused Girl A:“Some of you, when arrested, said it was triggered by race…What triggered this…was your lust and greed.” 

The Trial

Finally the abuse is exposed

When the Rochdale cases came to trial, the dozens of victims are reduced to the few such as ‘Girl A’ and ‘Lilly.’ In February 2012, the trial begins at Liverpool Crown Court. Girl A, previously deemed unreliable, is now a key witness.Eleven men, all from Rochdale and Oldham, are accused of sexually exploiting five young girls.  Ringleader Shabir Ahmed comes across as both a ‘show-man’ and ‘incredibly arrogant.’ According to journalist Nigel Bunyan who saw him in court; “He would glare at the jurors as they came in and out.” His defense strategy was also equally counter-productive:“Shabir Ahmed was desperate to make it very clear that the whole of society was to blame for the abuse. The fact that these young girls were allowed to go out in the evenings and not have stable families around them was the reason why he could abuse them…A stupid defence but nonetheless that’s what his defence amounted to.”Nazir Afzal, Former Chief Crown Prosecutor, NW England

His victim, Girl A, gives evidence via video link. People are finally listening to her. And this time, her and the other victims are believed. On the 8th May 2012, the jury pass a unanimous guilty verdict against nine of the eleven men on trial. Shabir Ahmed 59 is jailed for a total of 19 years for conspiracy, two counts of rape, aiding and abetting a rape, sexual assault and a count of trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation.Kabeer Hassan 25, is sentenced to a total of twelve years for rape and conspiracy.Taxi driver Abdul Aziz, 41, is sentenced to nine years for conspiracy and nine years, concurrently, for trafficking for sexual exploitation.  And, in an historic moment for the British Justice system, this trial sees the first successful convictions for child trafficking for sex within the UK But from far-right groups to even the Prime Minister David Cameron, there is anger, disbelief and a determination that nothing like it could ever happen again. “After the trial, all hell broke loose.”Nazir Afzal, Former Chief Crown Prosecutor, NW England


With these successful convictions, the police now intensify their other investigations. Operation Routh and Operation Doublet involve 550 officers looking at similar historical cases. These reveal potentially 50 more perpetrators. One of the victims the police go back to is Lily: “The police approached me when I was 17 and said they was re-investigating all old sexual abuse cases.” She is finally taken seriously.But the intervening time since they first spoke to her has been far from easy. She had attempted suicide. Courageously, she agrees to give evidence at trial - to talk about the most intimate aspects of her life and what happened to her as a child, and to tell that to strangers and with her abusers listening. Lily takes part in four separate trials in September and October 2013 and June 2014.It is an horrendous experience for her:“When I had to give evidence it was the worst thing I’ve ever done, It just felt like I was being abused all over again.” Twelve different men are accused of abusing Lily between 2004 and 2009. These twelve men include 37 year old Abdul Huk, the taxi driver Lily knew as Saj, 27 year old Freddie Kendakumana, the older man she’d thought of as a boyfriend but had repaid her with violence and rape and 28 year old Roheez Khan, a man who had sexually exploited Lily and then threatened her and her mother when she tried to escape the abuse.  

The number of defendants mean that several barristers cross examine Lilly for day after day in a process that according to former Chief Crown Prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, “often amounts to bullying and badgering.”“They tried to say…I couldn’t decipher from what was real and what wasn’t real…That I would go with anyone and everyone…That is was my fault…I just felt like scum, like I was nothing.” LillyOn the strength of Lily’s evidence Abdul Huk is found guilty of sexual activity with a child and is jailed for 4 years.Freddie Kendakumana is convicted of rape and sexual activity with a minor and jailed for 8 and a half years.Roheez Khan is convicted of sexual activity with a minor and witness intimidation and jailed for 6 and a half years.Six of the males are acquitted and two other men were found guilty of sexually exploiting Lily and both receive jail terms.

Investigation II

Finally this abuse is taken seriously

In December 2010 Greater Manchester Police form a specialist team of officers to specifically investigate sexual abuse cases.They call their investigation Operation Span. Even though the police are now willing to listen to victims of sexual abuse, investigators have multiple hurdles.The abused girls have often already been let down once by the police and some are now reluctant to come forward. If and when they do, their accounts are often hampered by the drink and drugs with which they were often plied. And even when facts are recalled, they’re often not actual names but the nicknames by which the abusers called themselves.

Despite this, the police begin to uncover what appears to be a large and complex web of criminal abusers and their multiple victims. “Once police forces…started actively looking for child sexual exploitation, what shocked them was the scale of it.”Adele Gladden, Safeguarding Children’s Consultant.Increasingly, in Rochdale, it looks like the perpetrators are mainly British Pakistani men working in the night time economy.In May 2011, Nazir Afzal becomes the chief prosecutor for the North West of England. He’s keen to see if grooming gangs are operating in his area and within days, his colleagues bring him the case of Girl A. But the initial decision to class her as an unreliable witness against Shabir Ahmed, both her rapist and the alleged ringleader of a larger grooming gang, is a massive impediment to investigating any of the alleged abusers:“…without reversing that decision it would have undermined the cases against all the other men because they could turn round to a jury and say, ‘Well, why am I here when he, alleged ringleader, is not here?’…like a pack of cards, it would have just fallen over.”Nazir Afzal, Former Chief Crown Prosecutor, NW EnglandSo, in June 2011, Nazir Afzal does something very rarely seen. He overturns the original Crown Prosecution Service ruling. Now the Greater Manchester Police have the power to bring charges against eleven members of the gang, including 58 year old Shabir Amend and 24 year old Kabeer Hassan. By the time of their arrests, a sickening 50 young girls, aged between 12 and 16 are believed to have been abused by members of the gang. “One of those was was a girl of 13 who had convinced herself that she was in love with a 42-year-old taxi driver. What was love for her was simply a passport of abuse for him.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghostwriter ‘Girl A: My Story’The 50 girls police identify are just the number the police can find. The number of actual victims is thought to be much higher.  

Investigation I

Abused children neglected agin and again

ily starts meeting with a sexual health worker from Rochdale’s Crisis Intervention Team. “…they was the only people that was ever consistent in my life, they was the only people that never judged me.” When Lily describes the sex she’d had with Freddy, the worker tells Lily she has been raped. “In Rochdale there were certainly workers….who were recognising what was happening and desperately trying to raise awareness of it…they really were lone voices.” Adele Gladden, Safeguarding Children’s Consultant  

In November 2008, 15 year old Lily, still under the age of consent, is taken to see a Rochdale police officer. She is there to give a statement about her abuse by Freddy Kendakumana. She does not feel she gets a sympathetic audience.“…it was a male police officer. And he was kind of like, sighing - and had his head in his hands - and just looked really disinterested.”This encounter and a lack of any sustained follow up convinces Lily that either she is ‘over reacting’ or that the authorities believe her to be ‘just some stupid kid’.  “I can’t imagine anything worse as a victim of abuse than finally realising you’re being abused, plucking up the courage to tell somebody that you’ve been abused and then nothing being done and you being abandoned to your abuser. I can’t imagine a situation that leaves you more terrified and more vulnerable.”Adele Gladden, Safeguarding Children’s ConsultantNearly the same substandard lack of care and investigation is given to another child, to Girl A. In August 2008, police are called to a kebab takeaway restaurant in Rochdale. A young girl is said to be causing criminal damage. She’s arrested and taken for questioning. Asked why she tried to trash the takeaway, she explains; “It’s not what happened at the end. It’s’s been going on for ages.” The child’s ordeal began weeks earlier when she started visiting two local Rochdale takeaways.Girl A knew an older girl who she believed was a trusted best friend. This ‘friend’ showed her a teenage life of smoking and late night drinking. So Girl A wasn’t suspicious when her friend suggests they go to a takeaway for free food. But the food, like the cigarettes and alcohol will come with a heavy price tag.

one afternoon, one of the takeaway workers, 55-year old Shabir Ahmed, explains he expects to be repaid for all the freebies. He takes her upstairs:“…she was reluctant but felt she had no option…she’s very much a child. He’s in his 50s…suddenly she realises it’s payback time.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghost Writer of ‘Girl A: My Story'On a bare mattress, he rapes her.  After the ordeal, the 14 year old girl starts crying and won’t stop. So Shabir Ahmed tells her he loves her. That night, he takes this 14 year old girl to another man. This other man also rapes her.It is almost impossible to imagine how frightened, broken and trapped this little girl must have felt. But to her abusers, she is simply property, to be traded, bartered and abused:“Very early on in the abuse of Girl A she was handed over by Shabir Ahmed to his supposed nephew Kabeer Hassan - simply as a birthday present.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghost Writer of ‘Girl A: My Story'Frustrated and confused, a few weeks later, on the 6th August 2008, Girl A, lashes out and tries to trash a takeaway where she’d met her abuser. She’s arrested for criminal damage. And then she tells the police who the real criminals are.  Greater Manchester Police spend the next 11 months investigating Shabir Ahmed and the person who called the police on her, Kabeer Hassan. Both are arrested. But they deny the allegations and are bailed pending further forensic results.  Girl A, meanwhile, is charged with criminal damage. Feeling betrayed and trapped, she now fell victim to a 37 year old local taxi driver Abdul Aziz, the ringleader of a large grooming gang:“She got caught up in a world where if she was going to school, she would be texted or rung, men would turn up in vehicles, off then back to the house, out of school uniform and off to be raped.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghost Writer of ‘Girl A: My Story’“…we’d get to the place…and there’d just be different men there waiting. Towards the end it was like, it could be up to five different men in a day.”Girl AHer escape came through her getting pregnant. Her abusers no longer want her. It has taken them just four months to destroy and discard a young child. Eleven months after reporting her rape to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service states she wouldn’t be deemed a credible witness in court. The police believe that ‘given the unreliability’ of Girl A, the investigation cannot proceed and the case of the 14 year old girl that claimed to be raped by older men is marked, “no further action”.“…the most shocking element is that the people who should have been looking after these girls…were completely failing in their duty; effectively turning a blind eye to rape.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghost Writer of ‘Girl A: My Story’ ​​​​​​​


The Crimes

Full scale Grooming gang

“She was handed over…simply as a birthday present.” Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghost Writer of ‘Girl A: My Story’“Every time we went up it always led to something sexual.”Lily, Child Abuse victimIn the Greater Manchester towns of Rochdale, and Oldham, girls - children - are drugged, made drunk and then driven all over the North of England to be used for sex by men. Such is the demand, sometimes the men form queues. “…maybe 20 men would be queueing to have their turn.”Nigel Bunyan, Journalist & Ghostwriter ‘Girl A: My Story’If the drink or the drugs have not made the females incapable of resisting, physical violence, or the fear and threat of something worse, ensure their submission.  

If the drink or the drugs have not made the females incapable of resisting, physical violence, or the fear and threat of something worse, ensure their submission. “If he wanted something, it was either ‘yeah’, or, it happen in a bad way.”Lily, Child Abuse victimAnd worse, this perverted world had been made seemingly normal by patient grooming by the predators. To an outsider, it seems unbelievable that children could feel obligated to have sex with adults out of a sense of obligation, but these children are targeted, as Adele Gladden, of Safeguarding Children’s Consent explains, because they’re vulnerable.  “…grooming meets a need. Quite often it meets a need in the young person to feel loved….once you know you’ve got a young person to a position of having complete trust in you, then you will manipulate the situation to make them think…that you’re deserving of something and make them think that it’s totally normal…to demand sex…in exchange for…cigarettes.”