A group of nine men of Pakistani and Afghan origin were sentenced to jail yesterday for grooming white British schoolgirls for sex, using drink and drugs.
The men, aged between 22 and 59, were convicted on Wednesday of conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16, and other related offenses.
Passing sentence at Liverpool Crown Court in northwest England, judge Gerald Clifton gave them prison terms ranging from four to 19 years.
Some of the girls were as young as 13 at the time.
However, as a lawyer for one of the men raised questions about the safety of the convictions, the case nonetheless triggered debate in Britain about “grooming” and men from the Pakistani community.
“All of you treated them as though they were worthless and beyond any respect,” Clifton told the defendants.
“Some of you, when arrested, said it was triggered by race. That is nonsense. What triggered this prosecution was your lust and greed,” he said.
The abuse took place in Rochdale in northwest England. The court heard the group gave their victims drink and drugs and “passed them around” for sex.
Eight members of the gang were of Pakistani ethnic origin. They included taxi drivers, a takeaway worker and a religious studies teacher. Some were married fathers.
The other gang member was a 22-year-old Afghan illegal immigrant. He and a 35-year-old Pakistani will be deported once they have served their sentences.
Clifton said the group had been “grooming and sexually exploiting” several young girls in vulnerable situations. Police said as many as 47 girls could have been victims.
“In some cases those girls were raped callously, viciously and violently,” the judge said.
The man considered the ringleader, a 59-year-old who cannot be named for legal reasons, was jailed for a total of 19 years.
Adil Khan, a 42-year-old married father who was jailed for eight years, is planning to appeal.
His lawyer suggested the confidentiality of the jury’s deliberations may have been breached, citing a message on Twitter from far-right leader Nick Griffin which apparently stated the jury’s position before the court had been informed.
The convictions triggered debate about the scale of the problem in Britain.
Rochdale lawmaker Simon Danczuk told BBC radio: “There is no doubt about it ... this is an issue within the Asian community. A small group of Asian men that have a particular view of young white girls that is completely unacceptable.”
Mohammed Shafiq, leader of the Ramadhan Foundation, accused community elders of “burying their heads in the sand” on the issue.
“There is a significant problem for the British Pakistani community. There is an over-representation amongst recent convictions in the crime of on-street grooming,” he said.