They sat hand in hand in the public gallery above the court, straining to hear the barristers and judge on a day they had thought would never arrive.
Now-adult women, many with children of their own, still haunted by the despicable acts visited upon them as girls by a trio of seemingly untouchable brothers, who had dealt drugs and pimped vulnerable girls with impunity for years.
After years of being at best ignored and at worst blamed for their own abuse by the police and social services that should have protected them, 15 victims of the Hussain brothers finally started to see justice being done.
In controlled tones, Judge Sarah Wright laid out all of their individual stories and detailed the immense emotional toll their stolen childhood years had left on their adult lives.
One girl, made to work as a child prostitute on the streets of Sheffield with her sister by Arshid and Basharat Hussain and jailed for six-and-half-years after handling drugs and guns for them, described in court how she has to get undressed in the dark as she hates herself.
Judge Wright told the brothers: “You took away her childhood. She has suffered as an adult from anxiety and panic attacks. She even found writing her victim personal statement too upsetting to be able to complete it.”
Another girl was beaten, had a cigarette stubbed out on her chest, was tied up and raped from a very young age often by numerous men one after another at the say-so of Arshid Hussain.
The girl, whose abuse started when she was around 11 years old, was ‘given’ by Arshid Hussain to men as payment for debts he owed.
She was once forced into the boot of a car in Sheffield and driven to a house in London where a group of Asian men had sex with her.
The vulnerable girl, who had been living in children’s homes, met defendants Karen Macgregor and Shelley Davies when she was about 14 and went to live at MacGregor’s house, wrongly believing her to be a Good Samaritan who helped troubled children.
But she was kept at the property, supplied with heroin by Qurban Ali and forced to have sex with Asian men who came to the house – being beaten up by MacGregor and Davies on one occasion when she tried to escape through a window.
Eventually she managed to escape but MacGregor tracked her down to a children’s home with the intention of getting her to return.
Judge Wright said: “The effect of the abuse of her has been devastating. Her childhood memories are of pain and abuse. She is unable to trust anyone. She suffered from eating disorders and anxiety throughout her life.”
Another girl’s abuse at the hands of Basharat Hussain involved her being locked above a restaurant in Blackpool, kept in appalling squalor and ‘treated as a slave’ – forced to work in the restaurant, have sex with the owner, his son and other men.
Judge Wright said the trial has had a ‘devastating effect’ on the woman, who has suffered with depression, self-harm and eating disorders.
Another teenager whose life was ruined spoke of how her ‘happy, normal childhood’ was destroyed by meeting Basharat Hussain when she was 15.
Made to store drugs and guns in her bedroom, she was repeatedly taken to a flat in Sheffield where she would be forced to perform sex acts on different men. On one occasion, Arshid and Basharat tied her up and blindfolded her while men ‘lined up’ to sexually assault her.
At another time, her feet and hands were bound and a sheet placed over her head and she could smell petrol and hear a girl trying to scream as sexual activity took place. At a separate time, she had her trainers set on fire while she was wearing them.
The woman said in her statement: “Why now after all these years do I feel this cruel agony? I am haunted by disgusting memories, flashbacks and continuous nightmares.”
Judge Wright said the victim had contemplated suicide and told Basharat Hussain: “She feels worthless and ashamed as a result of your treatment of her. She feels guilt. She should not have to feel like that. You are responsible, not her.”
Judge Wright thanked all of the women for their ‘immeasurable courage’.
She said that while some of the women were accused in court of making up stories for money or of being fantasists, their real motive was ‘to bring the issue of child sexual exploitation into the public domain’.
Judge Wright: “They came forward to give their accounts to the police despite, in some cases, having tried to speak up previously when nothing was done. For many years they have not been heard. They have had no voice.
“They hope that by them speaking out it will not just act as a deterrent to others behaving in this way towards young people but also ensure that the appropriate authorities will not fail to take action in the future in the face of evidence of such crimes.
“Their bravery in speaking up, knowing they would be repeatedly accused of lying in this court, was considerable and cannot be under-estimated.”
Judge Wright reserved special praise for the woman known as ‘Jessica’, whose account of her abuse at the hands of Arshid Hussain in The Times newspaper sparked the investigation that eventually led to the convictions.
She told Hussain: “Despite the substantial hurdles she has encountered, your victim has shown considerable courage, tenacity and a steely determination in bringing these horrific crimes to the attention of the public.”
Judge Wright added: “She was a child and you were an adult.
“She vividly describes her life as being shattered into a million pieces and she feels she is just held together by sticky tape.”