A family who have waited 13 years for justice after their daughter was repeatedly raped as a child by a group of Asian males have been 'to hell and back', a Rotherham Council boss has said.
Speaking after a jury convicted eight men of abusing three teenage girls in the Rotherham area between 1999 and 2003 on all 19 counts against them, Ian Thomas, director of children's services at Rotherham Council, paid tribute to all three victims after their evidence helped secure the convictions.
He paid particular tribute to the central witness in the case, who had first reported her abuse to police on two occasions when she was just 13 years old in 2003 - but no action ever followed.
Her first complaint of being repeatedly raped and physically attacked by central defendant Sageer Hussain was withdrawn after police lost clothes that could have provided DNA evidence.
Her family also wrote to then Home Secretary David Blunkett to highlight what they said was happening to her at the hands of a group of Asian males and eventually moved to Spain to get away from the men who were abusing her.
She spoke to police again as an adult in 2013 to tell them the accounts she had given 10 years before were true - leading to a new investigation being launched.
Mr Thomas said: "This is Rotherham today, where you are more likely to be prosecuted if you sexually exploit children, if you seek sexual gratification from children and young people.
"The lion's share of praise is reserved for victims and survivors of CSE and their families.
"One of the families central to this case, I know quite well.
"They have been to hell and back over the past 14 years. I have been exposed to some of their pain. It is a mere snapshot and I can't imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes.
"This family exemplify why we must redouble efforts across all our communities in tackling child sexual exploitation as a national threat.
"Their target was not the product of a broken home, nor was she brought up in the care system. Her parents and grandparents worked hard in the family business to support their family and raise their children in the right and proper way.
"Yet they were ensnared by the grooming process that led their precious daughter to being abused in the most horrific way.
"This family and others like them should be an inspiration to us all. If you have abused past or present, step forward and talk to the Rotherham partnership today with a renewed confidence - we will support you, we will protect you and we will work hard together to ensure your abusers are brought to justice."
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Tate, who led the investigation, said: "This has been a lengthy and complex investigation by South Yorkshire Police, Rotherham Borough Council and the CPS.
"It has been an investigation that has lasted for three years into offences dating back nearly two decades.
"These were horrific crimes - we are talking about the sexual abuse and rape of children. Let's be clear - these victims were just 13 years old.
"I can't put into words how the victims have suffered as a result of this abuse. But I'm so grateful these brave women have chosen to put their trust in us and have given evidence in a court of law resulting in these convictions of eight very, very dangerous sexual offenders."
Peter Mann, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "I first of all would like to pay tribute to the victims who have shown tremendous bravery in coming forward and helping us build a strong prosecution case to put before the court resulting in the jury convicting all of the defendants of every count.
"In contrast to the courage and strength of the victims, these men's actions are utterly abhorrent.
"They waged a campaign of sexual violence and intimidation against young girls in the Rotherham area 13 years ago.
"Their victims were targeted, sexualised and in some case subjected to degrading violent acts.
"Sageer Hussain in particular took a leading role and in the case of one victim passed her to his friends, brother and other associated, assisted in various ways by the other defendants."
Dr Alan Billings, Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, said: “I welcome today’s convictions which will no doubt be a relief for the three victims who bravely relived their past very publicly in a court of law. I hope this goes some way to bringing them justice and will help them to move forward with their lives.
“One of the victims, who has testified during the trial is a member of my Victims and Survivor Panel, which was established in the wake of the Jay report to help understand where the police went wrong in the past and to ensure that victims are at the heart of all future investigations.
“I know that she, and her family, are pleased with the way the present South Yorkshire Police investigating officers have handled the case and with the support they have been provided by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. This is especially satisfying as it demonstrates that the Force and other authorities have changed and are listening to victims.
“This judgement sends a clear message to any others who think they can get away with treating girls and young women in this way that this will not be tolerated and that the police and other authorities will ensure offenders are caught and brought to justice.
“As well as the victims and their families themselves, I would also like to thank victims' services, who have played a significant role in preparing the victims for the court case and supporting and caring for them throughout. The jury has also given many weeks to the trial and have had to listen to a great deal of harrowing evidence.
“South Yorkshire Police is proving that it has learnt from past mistakes and is determined to get right what it got so badly wrong before. The teams of specially trained and dedicated officers work tirelessly to pursue and bring to justice those who exploit and abuse young people, which goes towards putting right some of the injustices and institutional failures of the past.”