Two-and-a-half years ago, her account set in motion a chain of events that brought the true scale of Rotherham’s child sexual exploitation scandal to light – and has finally now brought an evil grooming gang to justice.
Now the 30-year-old woman known as ‘Jessica’ has revealed how she believes the convictions of serial child abusers Arshid, Basharat and Bannaras Hussain and their associates would never have been possible if it was not for the work of Times journalist Andrew Norfolk after police initially tried to dissuade her from making allegations.
“People were trying to come forward before me and they were just being ignored,” she said.
“Andrew Norfolk printed my story and thank God he did. That triggered off the Jay report, that triggered off everything – everything that has happened was due to Andrew printing the story.”
Sexually and physically abused from the age of 14 by Arshid Hussain and having his child after being made pregnant by him for the second time when she was 15, Jessica made the difficult decision to contact the police to report what had happened to her as child.
She believed her account could be backed up by police and social services records from when she was a child which detailed her association with ‘Mad Ash’, as Hussain was known.
The records even included a diary she had kept as a child detailing her sexual relationship with Hussain and an 11-page statement from her father about what was happening.
But after her family were told the diary and statement had ‘disappeared’, Jessica and her sister made the decision to secretly record their next conversation with police officers in March 2013 about her allegations.
A detective was recorded saying officers from the time who had witnessed her abuse and could back up her account would not wish to give evidence for fear of ‘getting in the s***’.
In August 2013, Mr Norfolk published Jessica’s story, with The Times taking the unusual step of naming her alleged abuser as Arshid Hussain.
Mr Norfolk said: “When we realised the weight of the documented evidence against Arshid Hussain, I was staggered that bodies responsible for protecting children had failed to take action against him.
“It was incredibly unusual for The Times to name a man as a suspected serial child abuser at a time when he had not even been questioned about such offences – let alone charged or convicted.
“We did it because the evidence was so powerful and so overwhelming.”
The same day that her story was published, police conducted their first formal interview with Jessica – with the account she gave them becoming the starting point for Operation Clover, the investigation that has now finally brought the Hussain brothers and their associates to justice.
Jessica said that after Mr Norfolk contacted the police prior to publication with details of her account to give them a right of reply, officers attempted to put pressure on her to stop the story being printed.
Her sister told Sheffield Crown Court: “As soon as The Times contacted the police, the officers were out that day saying, ‘We need to speak to you’, basically trying blackmailing, telling her if she goes ahead with the press she will not be able to make a case.”
South Yorkshire Police also officially expressed their anger at the publication of the article, putting out a statement in which the force said it ‘deeply regrets the decision by The Times newspaper to publish an article about an ongoing, complex and highly sensitive investigation into matters of historic child sexual exploitation’.
Mr Norfolk had already written in September 2012 about secret police documents which had suggested there was a ‘significant problem with networks of Asian males exploiting young white females’ in the town.
He said South Yorkshire Police had been in ‘complete denial’ about past failings in its handling of child sexual exploitation cases.
“Twelve months earlier I had been so convinced when we presented evidence from so many confidential documents that proved for more than a decade groups of men had been abusing young girls. I was convinced something would be done and nothing was done.”
Mr Norfolk said despite The Times and himself facing accusations of ‘racism’ over his reporting of abuse by Pakistani men, he was determined to keep going.
“We carried on because we knew what we were writing was true, we knew how important it was.”
In June 2013, MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee suggested Rotherham Council had been ‘inexcusably slow’ to realise the widespread sexual abuse of children was taking place on its doorstep.
But the publication of Jessica’s story was a key factor in Rotherham Council ordering an independent inquiry into its handling of historic child sexual exploitation cases within a fortnight of the article being published.
Council leader Roger Stone said the announcement of the inquiry followed ‘the publication of a number of articles in the Times newspaper’.
But he also suggested the inquiry would show things had improved in the council since 2009.
He said he believed the inquiry would ‘convince and reassure the public that real change has been achieved’.
In November 2013, Rotherham Council made the fateful decision to appoint Baroness Alexis Jay to lead the inquiry – instead of producing the conclusions Mr Stone had hoped for, the former chief social work adviser to the Scottish government put together a report that made headlines around the world.
She reported her damning conclusions in August 2014 – at least 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in the town, police had treated victims with ‘contempt’, there had been ‘blatant’ failures in council leadership and abuse was continuing to the present day.
Mr Norfolk said he had not anticipated the findings.
“What I was completely unprepared for was the sheer scale of the offending Jay uncovered,” he said.
“I had thought we were looking at 200 to 300 girls over that period. To read it was 1,400 was quite staggering.
“I had got to know a small number of young women really well. I knew how horrific their childhoods had been – it was a shock to realise suddenly you could expand that to hundreds and hundreds in the same situation.”
The huge political fallout it created saw the Rotherham council leader, chief executive and head of children’s services all leave their posts, along with the eventual resignation of police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright.
Jessica said the publication of the Jay report ‘changed everything’.
Police had spoken to three other women who went on to give evidence in the trial prior to the publication of the Jay report, but five of the 12 witnesses against the Hussain brothers who gave evidence in court were only contacted by detectives in the weeks after the Jay report came out.
The now-adult women were approached by officers who said they had information which suggested they had been victims of the Hussain brothers.
Another came forward after watching a BBC Panorama programme about the findings of the Jay report which named Arshid Hussain.
Almost two years after her story first appeared in The Times, Arshid Hussain was finally charged with multiple child sexual exploitation offences in June 2015 - leading to the trial that has just convicted him and five others.
The similarities between the girls’ accounts of how they were treated by Hussain and his brothers formed a key part of the prosecution case that helped convict them.
Many of their accounts were supported by police and social care records dating back to the 1990s.
The convictions came despite repeated accusations made by Arshid Hussain’s defence team that Mr Norfolk and Jessica had been involved in a ‘conspiracy’ with the other victims and Rotherham Council whistleblower Jayne Senior to invent the claims against him with other complainants.
Jessica said she hopes the trial process has made the public understand more of what happened to the victims.
“It has not been a smooth journey and there is so much more to come out,” she said.
“But the fact the girls have stood up and given evidence – you have names, you have an image in your head of the offenders. It has become more real for people.”
n The four men and two women convicted after the two-month trial will be sentenced today.
Brothers Arshid Hussain, 40, and Basharat, 39, were found guilty of multiple rapes and indecent assaults.
Bannaras, 36, had admitted 10 charges including rape, indecent assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm at the start of the trial.
Their uncle, Qurban Ali, 53, was convicted of conspiracy to rape.
Karen MacGregor, 58, and Shelley Davies, 40, were found guilty of conspiracy to procure prostitutes and false imprisonment.
Brothers Majid Bostan, 37 and Sajid Bostan, 38, were cleared of all charges.