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Attitude to abuse girls 'worrying'
Ateeq Latif, one of three men convicted at Teesside Crown Court of grooming girls as young as 13 and exploiting them for sex (Cleveland Police/PA)
The continuing appalling treatment of young victims of sexual exploitation by the family and friends of the men who groomed them revealed a "profoundly worrying attitude" about the offending, a judge has said.
Taxi driver Shakil Munir, 32, and pizza shop worker Sakib Ahmed, 19, were each jailed for eight years at Teesside Crown Court for having sex with vulnerable Middlesbrough girls as young as 13.
Ahmed's uncle Ateeq Latif, 17, was sent to a Young Offenders' Institution for three years for facilitating his relative's offending by accompanying him on drives with young girls, then taking one away to leave Ahmed alone with his prey.
Passing sentence, Judge John Walford said: "It is quite clear from all the evidence that you regarded these young girls between the ages of 13 and 15 as objects for your sexual pleasure. In reality they were children who lacked the maturity of experience to cope with your manipulative ways.
"It is apparent from their victim impact statements, reflecting their youth and immaturity, that some have mixed emotions about what happened at your hands. It is apparent that for some, their minds are in turmoil.
"They have been scarred not only by what you did but by the reaction to them of members of your family and friends.
"You cannot be held responsible for the shameful behaviour of others beyond your control.
"I openly express the hope that after today the sort of unpleasantness to which those girls have been subjected will cease and they can be allowed to put these events behind them.
"The fact that the girls have been condemned and not you reveals a profoundly worrying attitude to what has gone on here - an attitude which if not challenged will lead to further cases like this in the future, just as it has in the past.
"One might have hoped that after high-profile cases elsewhere in the country, the realisation might have dawned firstly, that the sort of attitude towards young girls that led to the commission of these offences has no place in civilised society, and secondly, it is unacceptable for feckless young men to roam the streets at night seeking young, impressionable girls, with only one objective in mind.
"That is behaviour that needs to be condemned."
There was a strong police presence as members of the English Defence League gathered outside the courtroom while sentencing took place.
Christopher Knox, prosecuting, said the victims had suffered "considerable, ongoing damage" which was continuing at school.
"They have been subject to name calling - suggestions such as 'white trash' and being goaded in the classroom.
"Comments like 'don't touch her, she will have you done for rape' and the suggestion they have been bombarded with abusive messages on Facebook, calling them sluts and accusing them of being racist."
Mr Knox said one victim was told she "deserved everything she had got".
The judge said their treatment was appalling and reflected "the depths of distorted, deviant thinking" that led to the offending.
He also stressed the Middlesbrough offending was not in the same league as the recent cases in Rochdale, Derby, Oxford and Rotherham.
He said Ahmed was "clearly obsessed" with having sex with underage girls. He admitted five counts of sexual activity with a child, relating to five different girls.
He would take them out in his silver Vauxhall Corsa and then pressure them into giving him oral sex or full intercourse.
Married Munir picked up one 14-year-old in his cab and had sex with her in a lay-by late at night. The same week he took a 13-year-old to a "chill pad" for sex.
He was said to have contacts for 200 girls on his phone, which he deleted before he was arrested.
The judge said he abused his position of trust and that his interest in under-16s had gone on for years.
When a letter was put forward on his behalf expressing the shame he had brought on his family, the judge said: "The concept of shame felt by any of these defendants sits uneasily with family, friends and associates behaving as they have done.
"One might have expected that if these defendants really took full responsibility then that feeling would have been spread amongst family, friends and associates to ensure that there was, rather than a condemnatory attitude towards these girls, a feeling of sympathy and support."
After a trial Munir was convicted of two counts of sexual activity with a child, relating to two victims, and abduction.
Latif, 17, was convicted of two counts of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence.
The judge said his "deceptively reassuring" presence in the car meant Ahmed's victims were tricked into going along for the ride.
The three defendants were subject to Sexual Offence Prevention Orders, and Munir and Ahmed were banned from driving for eight and six years respectively.
Two co-accused teenagers were cleared of all charges at the trial in December.
Mark Cotter, for Ahmed, said he was only 17 when the offending began.
"The word paedophile gets used in cases like this but that word cannot be bandied about as readily and as confidently when you have a defendant who was themselves, at the commencement of offending, a child," he said.
Ekwall Tiwana, for Munir, said: "Grooming often takes weeks, months and sometimes years.
"In this case Munir met them at the weekend and, really, the two sexual encounters took place within three or four days."
He added: "One must not underestimate the shame that these events and his conviction has on him within the Asian community.
"He is going to have to live with that label for the rest of his life."
Nicholas Johnson, for Latif, said his client was only 16 at the time.
"While he did facilitate, it was not in the form of organising or instigating," he said. "It was very much in the sense of assisting an older person."
Outside court, two of the victims' mothers spoke out about their ordeal.
"All the kids have been painted as sluts, when they have been victims" one said. "The girls have been tortured and are still being tortured."
The other mother said: "We have had to move house because of the abuse and our car was written off during the trial."
Outside court Detective Inspector Dino Carlucci, who led the investigation, paid tribute to those who bravely gave evidence.
He said: "I want to see the girls getting their lives back on track, continuing their education and enjoying life as they should as 15-year-olds."