Widespread sexual abuse, rape, and even murder of girls as young as 11 have stained the UK city of Telford, according to an investigation by the Mirror.
The paper’s 18-month probe uncovered that an estimated 1,000 children suffered at the hands of pedophiles, lured from their families, drugged, beaten, and raped.
The investigation linked three murders and two other deaths to the epidemic going as far back as the 1980s in a city of a mere 170,000 residents.
Reporters talked to 12 victims that identified over 70 abusers.
One 14-year-old was groomed and abused after her phone number was sold to pedophiles.
“I hated what was happening and my abusers made my skin crawl but I was told that if I said a word to anyone they’d come for my little sisters and tell my mum I was a prostitute,” she said.
The paper stated it has documents revealing authorities knew about the abuse but took a decade to start an investigation. It also said authorities treated the children simply as prostitutes and therefore criminals.
Based on the evidence, professor Liz Kelly, from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, estimated 1,000 children fell victim to the pedophiles in Telford alone.
The problem is not limited to one city though. Similar child sex abuse was also exposed in Rochdale and Rotherham. An estimated 1,500 were abused in Rotherham, the report states.
When police finally investigated the problem, they identified over 100 potential victims between 2007 and 2009 and said there could be 200 perpetrators. But only seven were jailed and the case was closed. The sentences added up to 49 years, seven years each on average. The men were of Pakistani origin, the town’s Parliament Member Lucy Allan said, according to BBC.
The pedophile rings mostly target white children, the paper stated, though some victims were Asian, which UK media use to describe people of Pakistani origin too.
Some victims ended up dead.
In 2000, 16-year-old Lucy Lowe was murdered along with her mother and 17-year-old sister. Their house was set on fire.
Azhar Ali Mehmood, 26, was imprisoned for the murders, but it turned out he’d been sexually abusing Lucy since 1997. She even gave birth to his child when she was 14. Still, he was never arrested or charged for child sex crimes.
Lucy’s death had a silencing effect on other victims.
“I was scared my family would die like Lucy’s. I thought they’d only be safe if I killed myself,” said one victim, who attempted suicide.
In 2002, 13-year-old Becky Watson died in a car accident in Shropshire. At the time, it was described as a prank gone wrong.
But the Mirror obtained the girl’s diaries, where she talked about her two years of sexual abuse by a grooming gang—since the age of 11. The initial Mirror’s exposé only described the gang as Asian. From further reporting it became apparent the gang was of Pakistani origin.
“Girls like Becky were treated like criminals,” said her mother Torron Watson. “I was crying out for help but it felt like I had nowhere to turn. If Becky’s abuse had been properly investigated by the authorities more girls could have been saved from going through this hell.”
Police said they take child sex exploitation cases “extremely seriously.”
“Tackling such horrific offences is the number one priority for police in Telford and we have not only increased officer numbers to tackle this type of offending, but use all of our resources and technology available to prosecute anyone who sexually offends against children whether that offending took place today, yesterday, or decades ago,” said Martin Evans, assistant chief constable for West Mercia Police.
Correction: The article was updated to reflect that the alleged perpetrators identified only as Asian were of Pakistani origin.