Five jailed for exploiting girl, 15

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Five men who sexually exploited the "profound vulnerability" of a 15-year-old girl in Rochdale have been jailed for up to eight and a half years.

Many of her abusers plied her with vodka and cannabis before committing their offences, which took place in 2008 and 2009, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard.

The majority of the defendants were only arrested last year after the grim portrayal of a largely Pakistani-heritage child sex ring preying on white girls in the town emerged into the public domain in a separate trial at Liverpool Crown Court which attracted huge publicity.

But one of the offenders, Congolese refugee Freddie Kendakumana, who received the longest sentence, was first arrested and interviewed by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in December 2008 after the girl - also white - complained to police that he had raped her the month before.

The girl was told at the time by an interviewing male officer that it was important not to have any future dealings with Kendakumana - who had arrived in the UK earlier that year - while the investigation continued but she later confessed she had bumped into him at a flat.

The investigation against Kendakamuna, 27, was dropped before he was rearrested years later and finally charged, along with his co-defendants, in October 2012 - nearly four years after the girl made the initial complaint as several men went on to abuse her in the intervening period.

By that time the girl had undergone numerous video-recorded police interviews from the end of 2008 to October 2011, totalling more than 23 hours.

Passing sentence, Judge Jonathan Foster QC said it was not part of his concern about how the police investigation was conducted but he said it was "regrettable" that the victim's allegations were not fully pursued until 2011.

He said: "There have been other similar cases in Rochdale and other parts of the country.

"In this case we have heard evidence of other girls, friend and associates of (the victim), who were in similar situations to her.

"Just today the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children's Board have published their findings in relation to an investigation into the notorious Rochdale grooming case heard at Liverpool Crown Court.

"They have made findings about the liasions between police and social services in Rochdale.

"It emphasises the public concern about this sort of behaviour."

He continued: "This case is not charged as a conspiracy. I do not regard it as a case of concerted grooming.

"Having heard the evidence, I do not think this is the case where (the victim) was being passed from one to another.

"However, it is a case where there was knowledge in the locality that young people, and therefore vulnerable girls, were susceptible to sexual activity in return for affection, alcohol and drugs.

"It is just such situations that the law seeks to protect."

In her victim impact statement, the complainant confirmed she had first gone to the police at the end of the 2008 but they told they had decided not to prosecute Kendakumana.

It was not until she was approached again by police in February 2011 when they began to fully investigate her claims, she said.

The court heard that she had chosen to give evidence in two trials "because I felt I didn't want other girls to be affected like me".

She said she found the court cases "the hardest thing I've ever had to go through".

"I felt like my life and my personality was under the spotlight," she said. "I was being branded a liar and my life was shown to the wider public like something from a TV show."

During the police interview process in 2011 her mental health deteriorated and she had to admit herself to hospital as she began to self-harm again, she said.

She is on medication for anxiety and depression which has affected her ability to leave a normal life, she added.

Kendakumana, of Illminster, Rochdale, was jailed for eight and a half years after he was convicted of rape and sexual activity with a child.

Chansa, 33, also of Illminster, Rochdale, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child.

Taxi driver Abdul Huk, 37, of Ouldfield Close, Rochdale, and Mohammed Rafiq Abubaker, 25, of Freehold, Rochdale, were found guilty of sexual activity with a child and were jailed for four years and two and a half years respectively.

Takeaway worker Roheez Khan, 27, of Ashfield Road, Rochdale, was jailed for six and a half years after he was convicted of sexual activity with a child and witness intimidation.

Judge Foster said the defendants had displayed "disturbing and worrying behaviour" but he did not regard them as dangerous.

Before they were led to the cells, he told them all: "I hope, with these sentences, that you learn you must respect the dignity of all human beings, particularly the young and vulnerable."

Following the convictions, Assistant Chief Constable Dawn Copley, of Greater Manchester Police, said: "We must acknowledge that there were some failings with the initial investigation carried out by Rochdale division into a complaint of rape by the victim in 2008.

"The suspect was arrested on suspicion of rape, but he was released without charge. The case was investigated and the officer who supervised the investigation took the decision to discontinue the case.

"In 2009 the victim in this case made a number of disclosures to the police about some of the defendants in this case.

"A decision was made to file the information gathered during this interview as intelligence and the decision was supported by the officer's line manager.''

A review of the probe by GMP's sexual crime unit highlighted a number of failings, Ms Copley added.

The matter was referred to its Professional Standards Branch in March 2011 and "formal management action" was given to two officers.

The investigation has also been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The victim was first prompted to go to the police in 2008 on the advice of a health support worker when she disclosed that Kendakumana was sexually forcing himself on her.

But social care and health professionals dealing with the youngster failed to pass on her other confessions in 2008 and 2009 that she was having consensual sexual contact with a string of older men whom she labelled "boyfriends".

The victim gave evidence against the five defendants in two trials earlier this year.

The defendants come from a range of nationalities - Kendakumana and Chansa are from Congo, Abubaker is a Kurd, while Huk and Khan are believed to be of Pakistani heritage.

Several knew each other but it was not the prosecution case that it was a conspiracy where they acted in an organised manner.

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