Despair of Hull child sex grooming gang victims - no charges follow 30 arrests and two-year probe
VICTIMS of a child sex grooming gang in Hull have spoken of their devastation after a two-year police probe saw no charges being brought.
Detectives from Humberside Police have appealed for any other victims to come forward after the CPS declined to authorise charges against several men arrested during its two-year Operation Marksman probe of allegations of schoolgirl rapes in Hull. Four women, now aged in their late teens and early 20s, told police they were groomed and sexually abused, sometimes in school uniforms, by groups of men in the Hull area, between 2017 and 2019, while two of them said the abuse happened in other parts of the north of England. They said they suffered abuse while at school or in care by several men, some involved in the taxi and takeaway trades, and told of being groomed and given drugs and alcohol, before being gang raped. There were 34 arrests from October 2019, but no one has been charged in connection with allegations made by the women after the CPS reviewed an evidence file. Humberside Police now believes there could be other victims yet to come forward. The first arrests were made a few weeks after the editor of this website enquired about the investigation after a retired social services whistle-blower claimed it and other allegations of child sex grooming in Hull were not being taken seriously.
DCS Phill Ward (above) said he "absolutely believes" the women were sexually abused as described, but "evidential gaps" meant the CPS was not satisfied of a prosecution. He said: "We absolutely believe their accounts and took this very seriously and believe what the girls said and that is why we set up Operation Marksman and carried out a detailed, through investigation." He said due to the traumatic events full disclosures from victims had taken time, and as they were often groomed with drugs and alcohol, recollections of when or where abuse happened may not always have been precise. He said: "We have been unable to close those gaps and at this time have exhausted all current lines of enquiry. "No investigation is ever closed and we will act on any new information. "I would urge any victims or witness to come forward with the clear message the investigation will be very thorough." Police seized more than 150 mobile devices and looked at data to see if suspects were in the location of the alleged offences at the same time. He said: "We looked at messages, social media and cell site data. "There was very limited evidence of association and we found no evidence of individuals facilitating other males to pay for sex abuse. "Some knew each other but did not associate regularly. "In some cases, a victims said it happened at an address, but our evidence showed the suspect not linked to that address. There was some contradicting evidence between a victim and a suspect. Humberside worked with other forces including Cumbria, with mobile phone data going back to 2018 provided.
Essex News and Investigations was approached by one the victims last August amid fears the investigation was being scaled down, but Chris Noble (above), Humberside Police's Assistant Chief Constable assured at the time in a letter that this was not the case. Two more arrest were made last December in South Yorkshire and Cumbria. A suspect in Barrow-in-Furness was also a suspect in similar grooming allegations in Cumbria, but the man, 42, has not been charged by either force. The investigation did find evidence of other offending on suspects' phones, including sex abuse of other victims and drugs and money laundering, not in connection with the original complainants. Detective Superintendent Laura Koscikiewicz (below), Head of Humberside Police's Protecting Vulnerable People Unit, said: "A number of those arrested have been charged with sexual offences, drug supply offences and money laundering. “We’ve spent a lot of time getting to know the girls, building up their trust to allow them to confide in us, helping them to understand and comprehend what they’ve been through. "I want to praise the girls for their bravery and strength throughout this difficult two years." One victim, now 18, said she was raped, trafficked and abused by more than 100 different men over three and a half years from the age of 13, including being filmed. She said: "The police said 'we won’t stop until all of these men are behind bars,' but two years later, they are walking free, still able to hurt vulnerable girls." Another victim, now 20, said she was raped and sexually abused by at least 22 different men while at school and had become pregnant by one of them before an abortion. She said: "The police came to all our houses and promised us all the men would be locked up with no bail, so that’s why we went ahead.
"We spent nearly two years doing days and days of meetings with police, video interviews, reliving all our trauma and doing identify parades seeing the men’s faces, all for it to be closed and over 30 men let free and able to carry on abusing young girls. "I felt very let down and upset when we were told there was not enough evidence as I had a folder of over 2,000 pages and I’m sure the police had a lot more." A third girl under the care of East Riding of Yorkshire social services said she was moved to children's homes in different parts of the country, but still came into contact with around 50 older men, many of whom abused and raped her. The girls have been supported for the past year by Maggie Oliver, a former detective who resigned from Greater Manchester Police after blowing the whistle on what she said was the force's poor handling of its investigations into a major network of child sex groomers mainly of Pakistani heritage in Rochdale. She now runs the Maggie Oliver Foundation which supports victims of sexual grooming and tries to get police forces to re-open investigations. She is concerned about overlaps with the Hull case and Barrow-in-Furness, where Cumbria Police has "denied there is a sex grooming gang operating," despite numerous allegations. She plans to refer the case to Operation Hydrant, a National Police Chiefs' Council initiative which can review complex child sex abuse cases. Mrs Oliver believes the CPS is often reluctant to take on complex sexual grooming cases, due to the time and resources required, preferring to deal with simpler individual rape cases as it tries to boost the number of rape convictions which have declined. She said: "It is scandalous that these girls sat through days of interviews and have no justice. "In Hull there were multiple girls giving the same accounts and I find this impossible to disregard. "I think it is very closely connected to the collapse of rape and abuse prosecutions as the CPS will take forward the easiest cases. "These cases can be difficult but it does not mean it is not available to the prosecution to bring charges and a jury will not see through the smoke and mirrors of the defence."
'ABUSED BY MORE THAN 100 MEN'
THE youngest alleged victim told police she was raped, trafficked and abused by more than 100 different men from the age of 13.
Now 18, she said she was once raped by men in balaclavas with it filmed.
She said she was told police 14 men were arrested in connection with her allegations.
She said: "The grooming started when I was about 13 and I went to a party where these two men where and we exchanged numbers and they started inviting me round to a few properties they dealt drugs from.
"For a month and a half they were lovely and expected nothing from me, then they began sexually assaulting me and taking me to different properties to be raped, beaten and abused by other men for money.
"Over a three and a half year period, I was raped, trafficked and abused by over 100 men, videos were taken of me being raped by these men wearing balaclavas.
"At the start of the investigation the police said 'we won’t stop until all of these men are behind bars' a year and a half later, they are walking free, still able to hurt vulnerable girls and get away with it, and I’m left watching my shadow and feeling absolutely terrified and traumatised for the rest of my life.
"Me and the other girls have been failed by the police and the other victims who haven’t spoken out or the young girls who they will prey on in the future have been failed.
"We need to get these men off the streets.
"I had no one to talk to when the grooming started and felt so alone and these men took advantage of that."
'STILL AT SCHOOL WHEN GROOMING NIGHTMARE BEGAN'
ONE girl was 16 and still at school when her sex grooming nightmare began. She was under a social services protection plan and said from 2017 at least 22 men raped or sexually abused her over three years, often during periods she was reported missing. She said the ordeal began after she was locked in a room and raped by one man. After this, she believes her number was given out to several other men who began making contact. Now 20, she described being "brainwashed" by abusers who began offering gifts and money before drugs and alcohol then demanding sex. She said one rape was so horrific that she woke up in agony in a bush in the early hours. She said: "More men started messaging me and picking me up and taking me to different flats and being violent and raping me. "It just got worse so there would be more men, more flats, more cars, more abuse. "One man took me to a quiet place and told me how he was going to kill me and he strangled me until things went fuzzy and black. "I would be picked up from school in the middle of the day, taken to a house or a flat given alcohol and then raped and hurt and then left miles from home to find my own way home. "I was once taken to a hotel in school uniform with a man in his 30’s but the hotel didn’t question anything so I ended up being raped several times that night." After becoming pregnant to one man she had an abortion and police asked for the foetus as evidence. But no one was charged and she was shocked after police returned it to her frozen in a plastic bag. But, she said police were aware of the abuse from an early stage after her teacher and parents made regular reports, but no arrests were made at the time. She said: "Sometimes when I was missing the police told my mum I was wasting their time even though there were markers on the system that I was being exploited and I would be left with these men waiting for police to come and rescue me but sometimes they never came."
'ONLY SOLUTION FOR POLICE AND SOCIAL SERVICES WAS TO KEEP MOVING ME'
ONE girl said she was failed by the care system after being raped or abused by several men after being repeatedly moved to specialist care homes across the country. Now 17, she said she came into contact with about 50 men who abused her or other girls while under the care of East Riding of Yorkshire Council social services. She said it began while living with a boyfriend in a Humberside hostel, aged just 14, when a man aged in his 20s or 30s tried to have sex with her. Social services moved her to a specialist children's home in Cambridgeshire, but more abuse happened. She said: "A man of 50 or 60, with another in his 30s, spotted us at the bus stop and we told him we were 14 and 15, but he gave us drugs and alcohol and asked us for pictures in exchange for money. "Because we wouldn’t let him have pictures he raped me." Cambridgeshire Police said it "thoroughly investigated" her allegations in 2018 when a man was arrested but released with no further action. She was moved to a children's' home in Bedfordshire that specialised in child sex exploitation victims, but she said the abuse worsened, as she was often able to "go missing into London." She said: "It only got worse. More men, more rapes. The lack of support and the isolation from family and friends was awful." After Bedfordshire she was moved to another specialist centre in the north west, but ended up being abused again in the Shropshire area. She said: "There were around 30 to 40 men in the flat when I woke up sore and bitten in a daze. I remember seeing loads of faces."
Police even ran a missing appeal for her and a friend (anonymised version of the appeal picture above) while they were being abused at the flat. She said she has since done four interviews with different police forces, each of which lasted several hours. West Mercia Police, which is responsible for Shropshire, passed the case to Humberside Police. Detective Chief Inspector Jon Roberts from West Mercia Police said: " I can confirm we conducted an investigation in July 2018 which involved a child from Humberside. "We passed these details to our colleagues in Humberside Police and subsequently the investigation is now closed." Also while housed in the north east, she said she was picked up by a man from a northern city, aged in his 40s, who was arrested but never charged. Social services tried to move her to Bradford, which has had documented problems with child grooming gangs, but she went to court and the judge blocked it. She said: "I’m sickened to say they failed me as a child and now I have to live with this for the rest of my life. "Not just me but other girls have sat through video interviews as we are promised justice. "The only thing we get from any of this is the trauma brought back up. "Overall I would say there were over 50 men I met while I should have been protected by the system. "The only solution to social care and the police was to keep moving me." Eoin Rush, director of children, families and schools at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, said: “The case involving is very complex and she has shown a great deal of courage in coming forward and reporting these allegations to police. “The council has provided support and offered help to her over a number of years, and she continues to receive support from social workers. “In response to her very challenging circumstances some years ago, she was cared for at different locations across the country. “Child sexual exploitation is an issue facing towns and cities across the country and while new multi-agency approaches to tackling this scourge have become increasingly effective there is no simple solution. “Like many other local authorities, we are constantly reviewing our approach, including working with survivors of this crime, to tackle this issue to make sure that together with our partners in the police and health we can work with parents and others to keep children safe. “We have worked closely with Humberside Police as part of Operation Marksman, and while this specific operation has now concluded, police colleagues are very clear that should new information come to light they will re-open the investigation."