A council leader has warned Rotherham paedophiles 'there is no hiding place for people like you,' following the first convictions in a National Crime Agency investigation into historical child sexual exploitation in the town.
Yesterday Judge David Dixon sentenced Riaz Makhmood, 39 to six years, nine months and gave both Sajid Ali, 38, and Zaheer Iqbal, 40 sentences of seven-and-a-half-years, after the three defendants were found unanimously guilty of 15 counts of indecent assault.
The court was told how all three men groomed a 'vulnerable' girl, aged between 12 and 13-years-old, before sexually abusing her in the Masbrough area of Rotherham for a period of a year during the mid-1990s.
Their convictions are the first in the National Crime Agency's Operation Stovewood, which probes into historic child sexual exploitation carried out in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
Rotherham Council Leader Cllr Chris Read today welcomed the convictions, but warned Rotherham child abusers: "There is no hiding place for people like you and as a partnership we will do everything we can to find you.”
He added: “I am very pleased for the victim that these perpetrators have been convicted and given the sentences they deserve for what is a truly despicable crime. This should give further confidence to victims and survivors that they are being listened to and taken seriously.
“This is a very positive start for Operation Stovewood, and it sends out a clear message once again that if you have committed these crimes here in Rotherham you will be caught and you will be dealt with, no matter how long ago the crimes took place."
Operation Stovewood Senior Investigating Officer Paul Williamson added: “This is the first trial under Operation Stovewood and we have only been able to get to this point as a result of the bravery of the victim to come forward and tell her story.
“Our investigations are complex in nature and scale and the commitment of officers – building trust and relationships with victims – should not be underestimated.
“It has been challenging to get to this point, but I have no doubt today’s conviction will give victims the confidence that they will be listened to, and that the individuals who exploited them in the worst imaginable way are finally held accountable for their actions.
“Working with South Yorkshire Police, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and the many other partners we are engaged with, we will not stop in our endeavours to get justice for the victims and survivors who have shown great courage and dignity in coming forward.”
Since 2014 when the NCA began Operation Stovewood, 28 individuals have been arrested and 21 have been charged with 94 child abuse and exploitation offences.
There are 36 separate investigations ongoing and 88 suspects have been identified so far. Officers are actively engaging with 239 victims and this number is expected to increase.
Operation Stovewood is investigating allegations of child sexual exploitation and abuse between 1997 and 2013. Under the Memorandum of Understanding with South Yorkshire Police, if there are allegations of abuse that fall outside of this time frame, but are linked to cases under investigation by the NCA, they will also be taken forward by the operational team.
Anyone who is concerned about the safety of a young person, or who may be suffering abuse themselves, is urged to seek help. Call police on 101 or the MASH Team (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) on 01709 336080. Always dial 999 in an emergency.