Parents have been urged to monitor their children’s use of social media after two men were convicted of grooming and abusing girls as young as 13.
Yasir Ali, 28, of Grange Road, Peterborough and Daaim Ashraf, 19, of Almoners Lane, Peterborough, were found guilty of 24 charges at Cambridge Crown Court on Tuesday.
The court heard they abused eight girls who they groomed after meeting them through social media. The victims were from Stamford, Rutland and Peterborough.
Director of children’s services for Lincolnshire County Council Debbie Barnes said it was important parents knew what their youngsters were doing online.
“I would urge parents to ask their children what social media sites they use, set appropriate parental controls on computers and set profile settings to private on social networking sites and Facebook,” she said. “This case only goes to show once again the dangers of grooming on social media.”
Lincolnshire and Rutland county councils worked closely with the police during the investigation into Ashraf and Ali. Mrs Barnes said: “We are pleased that the verdicts indicate that there has been justice for the victims.
“As soon as the allegations came to light we worked with partners and agencies in a co-ordinated approach to support the children and the criminal investigation. The bravery of these young girls is to be commended.
“Everyone must be vigilant about the possibility of child exploitation and speak to the authorities if they see anything suspicious so that abuse can be stopped quickly and these individuals can be brought to justice.”
Rutland County Council’s interim director of children’s services Gladys Rhodes White added: “All of the young girls involved have shown immense courage to speak about their horrific experiences, both with social workers and when giving evidence in the courtroom.
“Social workers in Rutland also deserve great credit for spotting the signs of this abuse at an early stage and alerting the police. Their vigilance and awareness played an important role in bringing this investigation to court.
“Our focus now is to support the girls and their families as they try and rebuild their lives. We will do all we can to learn from their experiences to prevent further crimes of this nature.
“We are determined to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation and protect our children and young people from this type of abuse, as well as sending a clear message to perpetrators that we will work closely with the police and others to stop them from continuing these crimes.”
On Tuesday the court heard six of Ali and Ashraf’s victims, the youngest of whom was 13, were abused at a Peterborough hotel in January and February last year. One was also raped in an alleyway in Stamford.
Two more victims found during the investigation said they were raped in cars at Ferry Meadows near Peterborough in 2008 and 2010. The trial involving Ashraf and Ali was part of Operation Erle, an investigation involving Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Peterborough City Council’s children’s social care department.
On the day the investigation was launched, police received a referral from Rutland Social Care after a girl said she was raped at a Peterborough hotel.
Ali was convicted of 15 charges comprising: four rapes; seven charges of trafficking for sexual exploitation; two charges of making indecent images of children; engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child and intimidation.
Ashraf was convicted of nine charges comprising: five counts of trafficking for sexual exploitation; sexual assault; sexual activity with a child; engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child and intimidation.
Ali was cleared of a further count of rape from 2008, while a third defendant, James Daly, 25, of Grange Road, Peterborough, was cleared of a single charge of rape.
Two other men were cleared of offences during the trial.
Detective Superintendent Gary Ridgway said the case was ‘victim led.’
“The girls were targeted due to their vulnerability and groomed via social media,” he added. “They were made to feel special.
“These men preyed on their innocence and took them to hotels where they were plied with alcohol then sexually abused.
“They have each been through horrific ordeals and have shown great bravery in giving evidence against their abusers at court.
“It will no doubt take many years for them to rebuild their lives, but hopefully the knowledge that these men have been brought to justice will be an important step forward for them.”
Ali and Ashraf will be sentenced at a later date.