Six British men of Pakistani origin were on Friday sentenced to a combined total of 101 years in prison for sexually grooming and abusing young girls in the northern England town of Rotherham.
Mohammed Imran Ali Akhtar, 37, Asif Ali, 33, Tanweer Ali, 37, Salah Ahmed El-Hakam, 39, Nabeel Kurshid, 35, Iqlak Yousaf, 34, and a seventh man who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been convicted after a trial at Sheffield Crown Court last month.
The offences relate to the abuse of five girls, one as young as 13, who were passed around to be sexually abused by multiple offenders. One of the victims told the trial how she had sex with "at least 100 Asian men" by the time she was 16, while another described being gang-raped in a forest.
"Each of the complainants in this case were groomed, coerced and intimidated. Each of them was groomed. Each of you, groomed. You can have been in no doubt that the complainants were vulnerable in the extreme," Judge Sarah Wright said during sentencing on Friday.
The convictions were the latest to come out of Operation Stovewood, the UK National Crime Agency's (NCA) investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, which has identified more than 1,500 victims.
The NCA found that Akhtar was the "ringleader" and he took the lead in befriending the girls before introducing them to his friends. They were plied with drugs and alcohol until they couldn't remember what was going on, and in some instances, were threatened with violence or being transported and abandoned in an unfamiliar location if they didn't comply with the sexual demands.
Sentencing Akhtar to serve 23 years behind bars, Judge Wright accused him of "cynical manipulation and exploitation" of the girls.
"They (victims) continue to suffer considerable trauma and will continue to suffer throughout their lives as a result of your actions," she added.
The other five men, Kurshid, Yousaf, Tanweer Ali, El-Hakam and Asif Ali, were sentenced to 19 years, 20 years, 14 years, 15 years and 10 years, respectively. The seventh man, known only as "X", will be sentenced at a later date.
Operation Stovewood Senior Investigating Officer Paul Williamson said, "The men who have been sentenced today preyed on vulnerable young girls for their own satisfaction. They used violence and intimidation and believed they were untouchable by law enforcement.
"Today, as they begin serving their sentences, I want to reassure the victims and survivors across Rotherham that the NCA and our partners are committed to bringing child sexual offenders to justice".
Mike Duffy, from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said, "These men deliberately preyed on young, vulnerable teenagers, grooming and exploiting them. They denied the abuse but evidence put forward by the CPS, including the victims' accounts of the incidents, resulted in the jury finding them guilty. I would like to thank the victims who came forward and bravely supported this prosecution".
There are currently 22 separate investigations under the Operation Stovewood umbrella, with 153 suspects identified and 300 complainants engaging with police officers.