Peterborough gang jailed for sexual assaults

Four men jailed for rapes and sexual assaults on five vulnerable girls in Cambridgeshire town

Four members of a gang were sentenced on Thursday to a total of 54 years for rapes and sexual assaults on five vulnerable girls, one with learning difficulties.

The girls were also forced to have sex with men for money, which was used to buy drugs and alcohol.

The gang, of Czech and Slovak Roma and Kurdish backgrounds, were convicted last month of attacks on the girls, aged between 12 and 14, from April to December 2012 in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

Judge John Bevan QC, sentencing the men at the Old Bailey in London, singled out the gang's treatment of one victim, who had an IQ of just 54. She was repeatedly raped, with men and boys sometimes lining up to abuse her, he said. "To you she was easy meat, a sexual plaything who no one cared about, no one cared for and who nobody would believe. Unfortunately for you, the jury did."

Another victim became pregnant; a third self-harmed. One girl said in a statement released by Cambridgeshire police that the men had threatened they would kill her and her family if she reported them. "I am still frightened that they will kill me when they get out."

Another girl said: "My family were upset as they had never seen me so hurt and down as I was and there was nothing they could do to help me.

"I didn't want to tell them what had happened to me as I felt very uncomfortable. I didn't want them to be mad at me for not defending myself and stopping it from happening. I kept it to myself as I was so ashamed and embarrassed."

Det Supt Gary Ridgway praised the bravery of the victims. "Today gives those girls justice. Those who abused them are now behind bars," he said. "I'm pleased with today's sentences as it shows how seriously we, and the courts, take this kind of offending. It sends a clear message that we will not tolerate those who seek to exploit vulnerable young people."

Hassan Abdulla, 33, a drug dealer, who assaulted girls after luring them back to parties at his flat, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for four rapes and three counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. The 18-year-old ringleader, Zdeno Mirga, who made one of his victims pregnant, faces sixteen and a half years in a young offender institution(YOI) for eight rapes and inciting prostitution.

Renato Balog, 18, was given a 12-year term in a YOI for five rapes and three sexual assaults, and 17-year-old Jan Kandrac five and a half years in a YOI for a rape and two indecent assaults on a child.

A 14-year-old who cannot be named was given a six-month supervision order for sexual activity with a child. He walked free after the judge was told he had spent seven and a half months on remand after being charged with rape. He was acquitted of that charge at a three-month trial.

Abdulla, whom the judge called a "dangerous predatory paedophile", came to Britain from Iraq in 2002, fleeing persecution, but had since been convicted of offences including drug possession, the court heard. His barrister, James Buchanan, said Abdulla still denied his guilt over these charges.

He, Balog and Kandrac face possible deportation after serving their sentences.

The judge criticised the gang for failing to have learned enough English to follow the trial or sentencing, despite having lived in Britian for up to a decade. There had been court costs of up to £40,000 for interpreters.

"The fact is that the defendants all came to this country with their families between five and 10 years ago and the majority are still teenagers," he said. "The acquisition of a new language is not difficult if you put your mind to it. They have not attempted to learn the language of the country of their choice. The combination of the crimes you have committed and your attitude to these crimes both in this country and this court bring discredit on all of you in the dock and does a disservice to your fellow Roma who want to work hard in this country, improve themselves and make a positive contribution."

One of the girls told how she was sexually abused by boys at parties and raped in the children's play area at the Central Park in the city. A 13-year-old victim was forced to perform sex acts on up to 10 attackers in the park, as one of them urged: "Rape her," the jury at the Old Bailey heard. She was sold for £20 a time by Mirga so he could spend the money on "weed and vodka".

Two of the victims of abuse, which took place between April and December 2012, were of Czech and Slovak origin. The other three were English. The campaign of abuse unravelled when one of the girls was taken into care and began to tell her social worker what had been happening to her.

The investigation was the first trial under Operation Erle, a joint inquiry between Cambridgeshire police and Peterborough city council's children's services. Gillian Beasley, Peterborough's chief executive, said: "It is a long road to recovery for these girls. We will give them the best support we can possibly give them to step down that road to lead a normal life."


James Meikle and agency

The GuardianTramp

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