Brave victims of a violent child grooming gang brought their abusers to justice through their courageous testimony in court – despite facing intimidation and death threats.
The 12 women who gave evidence in the two-month trial against the Hussain brothers and their associates were repeatedly called ‘liars’ by defence barristers and accused of inventing their stories in an attempt to claim compensation from South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council.
One of the girls said today: “It felt like I was the one on trial.”
This was despite lawyers knowing Bannaras Hussain had pleaded guilty at the start of the case in December.
The jury was never told that Bannaras Hussain had admitted offences against seven victims over an 11-year period, including rape, indecent assault, procuring a woman to become a prostitute and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Four of the girls he abused between October 1990 and December 2001 went on to give evidence against the other defendants in the trial, but were still accused of inventing their evidence when they took to the stand.
One victim, who had to give evidence for three days, was so distressed at the line of questioning at one stage that she was scratching her arms in anguish during a break in proceedings and required a social worker to sit with her for reassurance.
Another barrister was later asked to tone down the cross-examination of the same witness after concerns were raised by the judge and prosecution she was shouting at the woman.
In contrast to the witnesses against him, central defendant Arshid Hussain refused to take to the stand to give evidence or be cross-examined on the grounds he was ‘too unwell’ to participate.
Hussain, who is in a wheelchair after being shot in 2005, appeared in court only once throughout the trial and instead watched the proceedings from bed at home in Goole via a video link.
One victim said of his failure to give evidence: “It just shows his arrogance really – the fact he has given no answers at all. He hasn’t and he never will do.
“He sat there and allowed us to go through hell and then for him never to be questioned.
“For me, I felt he has been treated more as the victim.”
A running theme throughout the trial was the violence – both real and threatened – used by the brothers against the victims and their families to ensure they behaved as they wanted.
The court also heard allegations that attempts were made to stop the now-adult women making statements against the Hussain family and their associates.
Girl D, who was abused by Arshid and Basharat Hussain and then made to work as a child prostitute on the streets of Sheffield with her sister, said that after police had contacted her as an adult, a man had threatened her by putting a gun in her mouth.
“He said, ‘Open your mouth and this is what you get.’ I were that scared I actually wet myself,” she said.
One woman, now 33, described how her happy, normal childhood was transformed when she met Basharat and was subjected to what prosecutors described as a ‘terrible ordeal.’
The woman relived how she was taken to a Sheffield flat and tied up and blindfolded as a succession of men subjected her to sex acts.
She explained how, on another occasion, she thought she was going to die when her hands and feet were tied and she had petrol poured over her by her abusers.
Another woman, now 36, explained to the jury how she was abused from the age of 11, with Arshid passing her on to his brother and friends, often as ‘payment’ for debts.
Prosecutors summarised her plight saying she was ‘beaten, had a cigarette stubbed out on her chest, tied up and raped from a very young age, often by numerous men, one after another, at the say so of Arshid Hussain’.
They said: “Her recollection is that the violence became a regular thing when she lived at the children’s home and, seemingly, no-one was interested in whether she returned in a bloodied state.”
The girl said she was locked in Karen MacGregor’s house for weeks and forced to have sex with a succession of Asian men.
Although the three brothers were at heart of the exploitation, charity boss MacGregor played a particularly insidious role in the grooming gang.
Presenting herself as a ‘mother figure’, she took in vulnerable girls from children’s homes, purporting to give them haven and support.
But she allowed them to be abused and kept captive, telling them they needed to ‘earn their keep’ by having sex with a succession of Asian men.
One woman said: “It was like Hansel and Gretel living at Karen’s. It was all nice and shiny and inviting and then it turned quite horrible.”
MacGregor denied she acted as pimp for the brothers, telling the jury: “I have not hurt anybody, I love everybody, animals and everything.”
MacGregor, Arshid Hussain and Hussain’s uncle Qurban Ali were convicted of conspiring for one victim to be forced into sexual intercourse with men at MacGregor’s house.
MacGregor and Shelley Davies were also convicted of conspiring to force the same girl to become a prostitute and imprisoning her at MacGregor’s address, beating the teenager up on one occasion when the 14-year-old tried to escape through a window.
One of the most harrowing accounts came from a victim who described how she thought she was going to die when Basharat took her out to the Peak District and subjected her to two hours of verbal and physical abuse before knocking her to the ground, spitting on her and telling her to dig her own grave.
Another girl recounted how she was taken to Blackpool on Basharat’s orders, locked away in a room above a restaurant and made to have sex with men for several months.
When she was finally rescued, the girl was discovered to be suffering from scabies, nits, chlamydia and gonorrhoea due to the conditions she had been kept in.