By Martin Evans
A gang of Somali refugees have been jailed for their part in the systematic rape and abuse of teenage girls who were failed by police and told their “lifestyle choices” were to blame for their ordeal.
Victims, as young as 14, were given drugs and repeatedly pestered for sex by the men, who were part of a wider gang based in Bristol.
Three men – Sakariya Sheikh, 23, Mohammed Dahir, 24, and Abdirashid Abdulahi, 23 – were convicted of 14 charges relating to four girls, following a third trial into the sexual exploitation of vulnerable schoolgirls.
It takes to 13, the number of men convicted of the “chilling” abuse which occurred in Bristol between 2009 and 2013.
But a report into the abuse found that many of the victims had been let down by social services, doctors and the police, whose failure to launch an investigation immediately meant the gang were free to abuse the victims for another six months.
A review, commissioned by the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board, revealed a series of shortcomings including by doctors, sexual health services and schools, who failed to notice the abus
The report also found that in some cases the victims were blamed by police for their “lifestyle choices” with one girl being told she had “brought it all on herself” after she reported two rapes.
Officers dealing with the crimes were also “under extreme pressure” as a consequence of austerity and cuts, the report found.
Contraception was dished out to girls as young as 12, who went to their GPs complaining of heavy bleeding, abdominal pains and needing tests for STDs.
Following the publication of the review, Assistant Chief Constable Kay Wozniak of Avon and Somerset Police, said: “We recognise that there were shortcomings. Unfortunately, financial pressures continue not just in Avon and Somerset but across the country.”
Jailing Sheikh for 16-years and Dahir and Abdulahi for eight-years each Judge Peter Blair QC told the men: “You have brought shame upon your families and upon yourselves. You are not worthy of very much further attention in this courtroom. “
Seven men went on trial accused of 46 charges.
Three were acquitted after the jury failed to reach verdicts and another man was found not guilty of the two charges against him.
The trial, codenamed Operation Button, was the third in a series of prosecutions of Somali men for child sexual exploitation and drugs offences.
In two earlier trials in 2014, codenamed Operation Brooke, 14 men were jailed for more than 100 years.
The three convicted defendants in Operation Button – rapists Sheikh and Abdulahi and Dahir – were also found guilty in Operation Brooke.
During the trial, jurors heard how a 15-year-old girl was simultaneously raped by Sheikh and another man in March 2013.
The majority of the offences happened between 2011 and 2012 against girls who had travelled to Bristol by train to meet the men.
Speaking after the case, Detective Sergeant Lisa Jones, of Avon and Somerset Police, said the offences had inflicted “long-term pain and torment” on the victims.
“These defendants befriended these vulnerable young people who were still at school, grooming and sexually exploiting them.
“Their systematic abuse over a number of years slowly eroded their confidence and made them think these crimes were normal behaviour.”
In a statement issued through police, the Bristol Somali community said it was “deeply appalled” by the case.
“Our deepest sympathy wholeheartedly goes out to the victims and their families who are undoubtedly experiencing extreme pain at the moment,” it said.
“Our community, a Muslim and black minority ethnic community, in Bristol would like to underline that we sincerely condemn the nature of these crimes.”