Seven members of a child sex trafficking ring have been convicted of a string of sex offences against six girls aged between 11 and 16.
A string of failings by social workers and police allowed the Oxfordshire gang to brutally exploit vulnerable schoolgirls, selling them for sex for seven years.
The girls were plied with alcohol and drugged with crack cocaine and heroin, then trafficked for sex across the country.
Some of the victims reported their treatment at the hands of the men to police, but their complaints were ignored. One was threatened with arrest if she persisted with her claims.
The authorities apologised as the men were convicted of a series of sex offences at the Old Bailey.
Two sets of brothers – Akhtar Dogar, 32, and Anjum Dogar, 31, and Mohammed Karrar, 38, and Bassam Karrar, 33 – were convicted along with Kamar Jamil, 27, Assad Hussain, 32, and Zeeshan Ahmed, 27.
Fighting broke out in the dock at the Old Bailey after two other defendants – Mohammed Hussain and a man who cannot be named for legal reasons – were cleared.
Judge Peter Rook told the guilty seven: “You have been convicted of the most serious of offences. Long custodial sentences are inevitable. ”
Operating from their Oxford base, the men targeted vulnerable and “out-of-control” youngsters, many of whom were in care homes.
They groomed them into believing they were in love and then exploited them, injecting them with heroin, forcing them into prostitution and even branding one of them with an electronic cigarette lighter.
Most of the six girls who were abused were too scared to face their abusers in court and gave their evidence from behind a curtain.
But one, who was repeatedly raped and sold for sex between 2004, when she was just 12, and 2007, faced down her attackers and told the court: “I am here to tell my story and see the people who abused me found guilty.”
She said that she had reported her treatment to the police a number of times but was told she would be arrested for time wasting.
She said: “Any self-respecting police officer would have seen something was wrong.
“If you pick up a child who is covered in cigarette burns and bruises, something is fundamentally wrong.
“Adults should be doing their jobs, it’s not down to a child.”
Another girl told how she was told she would be shot if she did not have sex with one of the men when she was 14 and how she rang police after being taken to a flat and realising she was with 11 men who wanted to have sex with her.
Another told how she was plied with drugs and forced to have sex with strangers while being filmed at the age of 13.
The most harrowing account came from a girl who was groomed from the age of 11 and forced to have an illegal abortion on the living room floor of a house in Reading, aged 12.
Police missed several chances to catch gang members before they were finally arrested.
The girls had been put into care because their behaviour was out of control and for their own protection.
Time after time, they disappeared from children’s homes and were caught with older men by police, but the exploitation continued.
Joanna Simons, the Oxfordshire County Council’s chief executive, apologised to the girls. She said: “We are incredibly sorry we were not able to stop it any sooner.
“We were up against a gang of devious criminals. The girls thought they were their friends.
“I would like to pay tribute to the courage of the girls in giving evidence. They have been so brave.”
Two of the three care homes where the victims lived have been closed down. One member of staff has been sacked.
Detective Chief Superintendent Rob Mason said: “Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council social services deeply regret that this activity wasn’t identified sooner and that we were too reliant on victims supporting criminal proceedings, and that they suffered a terrible ordeal.”
The men, who are all of Pakistani and North African descent, were finally arrested after police and social services got together to form Operation Bullfinch.
By speaking to complainants and looking at their histories, they were able to identify a pattern of grooming.
Senior police investigation officer Simon Morton said the victims were learning to live with their experiences.
He said: “They have been through possibly the most traumatic thing a child could go through.”
He added: “Time is a great healer and I honestly hope it will.”
The seven men face sentencing next month.
The trial followed the jailing last year of men in Rochdale for abusing vulnerable girls, another case where chances to stop the gang were missed.
Earlier this year the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service announced new measures to change and improve their response to sexual offending, particularly involving children.
Police have arrested a further nine men from the Oxford area under Operation Bullfinch.