Four trials find 17 men and one woman guilty of nearly 100 offences including rape and human trafficking of vulnerable women and girls
First row: Nashir Uddin, Taherul Alam, Mohammed Hassan Ali, Mohammed Azram, Monjur Choudhury, Saiful Islam.
Second row: Abdulhamid Minoyee, Jahanger Zaman, Mohibur Rahman, Prabhat Nelli, Nadeem Aslam, Eisa Mousavi.
Third row: Habibur Rahim, Badrul Hussain, Carolann Gallon, Abdul Sabe, Redwan Siddquee, Yassar Hussain
Wednesday 9 August 2017 10.19 EDT
Seventeen men and one woman have been found guilty of involvement in a sex grooming network in Newcastle upon Tyne that plied vulnerable women and girls with drink and drugs before assaulting them.
In a series of four trials at Newcastle crown court, juries found the men guilty of a catalogue of nearly 100 offences – including rape, human trafficking, conspiracy to incite prostitution and drug supply – between 2011 and 2014.
The men befriended more than 20 victims and invited them to “sessions” at properties, mostly in the west end of the city.
The girls were lured by the offer of alcohol and drugs, in particular mephedrone (“Mkat”) and cannabis, and were expected to offer sexual services in return for the substances.
The victims, all females between 13 and 25, were targeted because they were vulnerable and because they were less likely to complain because of their circumstances, the prosecution argued.
The court heard accounts of young women who were drugged before waking up to find themselves undressed, having been sexually assaulted.
Police paid convicted child rapist to spy on Newcastle sex abusers
The men – some of whom were related or friends since childhood – were convicted in four interlinked trials that have run over more than two years.
The trials were the result of police investigation Operation Shelter, which fell under the umbrella of Operation Sanctuary – Northumbria police’s investigation into the sexual exploitation of children and adults with vulnerabilities.
Police identified as many as 108 potential victims in Operation Shelter and 278 victims in the wider Operation Sanctuary.
Operation Shelter has clear similarities to grooming scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale, which featured gangs of British Asian men abusing white girls.
The men in operation Shelter are from a wider range of backgrounds, including Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish.
The trials, the first of which finished in October 2015, could not be reported until all were concluded for fear that they would be prejudiced.
During the trials, the court also heard how Northumbria police paid a convicted child rapist – referred to as XY – £9,680 over 21 months to find out about the times and whereabouts of parties where girls were being plied with drugs and alcohol, to gather evidence for their investigation.
No evidence from the informant, a British-Asian man in his 30s with links to the defendants, was put before the jury.
The NSPCC condemned the use of the man, saying it raised serious questions about the force’s approach to child sexual exploitation operations.
The police argued that it would not have been possible to uncover the crimes in Operation Shelter “using conventional methods”.
Northumbria police’s outgoing chief constable, Steve Ashman, said the sexual exploitation of vulnerable people was “the challenge of our generation”. He added:
“Operation Sanctuary was the most complex investigation in the force’s history. There is a wider debate to be had as to how this is to be tackled moving forward. I am confident that we are getting this right, we will never stop pursuing those responsible, and we will throw everything we can at them and we will catch them.”
In the final trial, which concluded on Wednesday, Habibur Rahim, 34, was found guilty of rape, the trafficking of seven victims, conspiracy to incite prostitution against seven victims, as well as drugs offences.
Abdul Sabe, 40, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit sexual assault against two victims, trafficking for the purpose of sexual assault against four victims and conspiracy to incite prostitution against four victims, as well as drugs offences
Badrul Hussain, 37, was found guilty of providing premises for the supply of cocaine, mephedrone and cannabis.
Mohibur Rahman, 44, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to incite prostitution for gain, three counts of providing mephedrone and two counts of providing premises for the supply of mephedrone.
In the final trial, Newcastle crown court heard how girls came to trust the defendants, particularly Rahim – known as Sham – who introduced them to other men in the group.
The court heard that on April 2014, an 18-year-old victim fell asleep while intoxicated by mephedrone.
She awoke to her find herself on a bed with her trousers down, Rahim next to her and a wardrobe against the door.
She said Rahim told her: “We just done it.” He was convicted of rape.
The court heard that Rahim attempted to persuade victims to have sex with his friends, with one complainant saying she did it “out of loyalty to him”.
Rahim argued that all of the witnesses testifying against him were liars, that the police were racist and that he was a victim.
Giving evidence, an off-duty probation officer described how she was on a night out in Tynemouth, North Tyneside, when she saw Sabe ushering a group of young girls into the back of a black 4×4.
She called the police as she knew Sabe to be on the sex offenders register.
After the report, police visited Sabe and Rahim at Sabe’s flat in Walker, Newcastle.
The pair were given warnings for cannabis possession and an entry was put on the police log to say “nothing untoward” had happened.
On another occasion, 7 February 2011, police arrived to speak to Sabe while he was drinking with young women at the derelict Ship in the Hole pub in Wallsend, North Tyneside.
One girl, then 19, told the court that police attended while she and two other women were in Rahim’s car with another, unknown man.
The victim told how she and the other women had been drinking cans of lager and smoking cannabis when the police arrived.
She said everyone in the car was searched but Rahim was then allowed to drive away.
The court was told how on one occasion a father was called to collect his daughter from a house on Northcote Street, where a number of the crimes were committed, at 12.15am on 27 March 2014.
He described how he saw her coming towards him barefoot carrying a glass of orange liquid, “clothing in disarray, highly intoxicated”.
He said her condition worsened and she could not stand.
“Her head was flopping and she was unable to control her movements. She was in no fit state to look after herself or control herself.”
The jury was told that the men had no respect for their victims and that they chose them because they were “easy targets”.
The court heard that in April 2014, Badrul Hussain – who was found guilty of providing premises for drug supply – was caught traveling on public transport without a ticket.
The female ticket inspector claimed that he shouted at her:
“All white women are only good for one thing. For men like me to fuck and use like trash. That’s all women like you are worth.”
The allegations against the men in Operation Shelter came to light in December 2013 after two separate allegations made near the same time – one of a serious sexual assault made to police by a young women and the other by two teenagers aged 14 and 15 speaking to a social worker.
The first charges were brought in February 2015. After media coverage of arrests made as part of the investigation, two more complainants attended Byker police station on 17 February 2014 to report crimes.
A woman, Carolann Gallon, 23, also pleaded guilty to three counts of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
The majority of those convicted in the trials are due to be sentenced on 4 September this year.
The decision to prosecute Gallon was taken by the director of public prosecutions after it was decided that she was not a victim, but part of the gang.
She pleaded guilty to transporting children to locations where the intention was that they would be subject to sexual offences.
Although many of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite prostitution for gain, there is no suggestion that any of the victims were sex workers.
Like other prominent child sex grooming cases, Shelter involves the “boyfriend model” of sexual exploitation, where a vulnerable person is encouraged to believe they are in a loving relationship with their abuser.
In a parliamentary report published in November 2014 into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, MPs said they had reached “the alarming conclusion” that Rotherham was not an outlier and that there was a widespread problem of organised child sexual exploitation in England.
A spokesperson for the child exploitation charity Pace said: “Sadly we know that child sexual exploitation has been widespread throughout the country and it can affect any child or family. It is good that the perpetrators have finally been brought to justice. There has been immense trauma inflicted on those young people and their families. There will be lessons to be learned.”
A serious case review into Operation Shelter was commissioned by Newcastle safeguarding children’s board and safeguarding adult’s board in May 2015.
It will be authored by retired barrister David Spicer and is expected to report in December.