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Asian rape allegations

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 27 August 2003

Channel 4 News has uncovered details of an 18 month police and social services investigation into allegations that young men are targeting under-age girls for sex, drugs and prostitution in the West Yorkshire town of Keighley.

But what's explosive about the allegations is that all the young men are Asian, and all the girls are white.

The local MP, Anne Cryer, says the men's cultural background of arranged marriages is the key to understanding the problem. That's vehemently denied by Asian community leaders and by social workers.

But the mothers of some of the girls say existing legislation is not protecting their children. Our North of England correspondent Justin Rowlatt has this:



The suggestion that men are seeking out schoolgirls for sex would be controversial in any community. But the claims about what's happening here in Keighley are particularly incendiary.

Sixteen per cent of the Yorkshire town's 70,000 population is Asian. And the allegation is that what is happening here in Keighley is that Asian men are seducing young white girls.

Supt Mark Whyman, West Yorkshire Police:

"Early last year we received a variety of reports that young Asian men by young I mean in their teens to their twenties were targeting young vulnerable school girls for sex and were actually leading to prostitution in some cases."

But it's proved very difficult to tackle. Many of the girls don't see themselves as victims and the police investigation - which lasted a year and a half - has lead to just one prosecution for a serious sexual offence, a rape.

Kath Tunstall, Bradford Social Services

"I fully agree and accept that young girls are being exploited and this is a child protection issue and that's why we're taking great steps to address it. There is a frustration without any evidence to pursue prosecutions."

As far as the police and social services are concerned this is a child protection matter -- they say race is not an issue. Yet -- even if they've never been involved -- most schoolgirls in the town will tell you that cars full of Asian men waiting at the school gates have become just another fact of school life.

Gemma Meares, schoolgirl:

"You see a lot of Asian men, driving around in cars and stuff, smoking draw..."

Channel 4 News:

"What, coming to the school gates?

Gemma Meares:

"Yeah, they are come in and sit in.... with their music pumping and stuff.... "

Channel 4 News:

"What, trying to pick up young girls?"

Gemma Meares:

"Impress young girls, yeah."

Channel 4 News:

"Have you seen girls go off with these men?"

Gemma Meares:

"Er, yeah, I suppose, I've seen lasses getting in cars and driving off with them."

We've spoken to two mothers whose daughters became involved with these men. The mothers are afraid of what might happen to them if it's known they've spoken out.

They say they've tried to warn their daughters of the dangers these men pose but they believe the men are deliberately targeting impressionable girls some as young as 11 and 12.

It is claimed the men meet the girls outside the school and offer them cigarettes, drink and drugs, trying to establish a relationship.

"Julie:"

"These men are showing you what you see as a good time, tripping off in the cars, driving around in the cars, buying you booze taking you to McDonalds, Burger King throwing money at you., you know like it's no object and it's treating you. In the beginning its like a treat. But I used to say to her in the beginning, nothing in life is free."

And it's alleged the girls aren't always treated well.

"Mandy:"

"At the age of 13 she was regularly taken to Bradford to a flat. At this flat she was introduced to Es to speed and GHB. On 5 occasions I had a phone call in the middle of the night. "I'm on a street corner mum I don't know where I am. I don't feel too well tonight."

The mothers say there's no question what the men really want -- they want sex.

"Mandy:"

"We regard this as, they're paedophiles. It's a grooming. There's a grooming process. Paedophiles -- a paedophile is a man that likes having sex with a child."

There's no doubting the mothers concern, but their daughters often don't see any problems with their relationships with these men. And, if the girls are 13 or over the police can't initiate criminal proceedings without a formal complaint - and often the girls wont do that.

"Julie:"

To them, it's not abuse. To them it's a laugh. They're having fun. They're just having a laugh. Chilling. Why don't you chill mum?"

The mothers have given police a list of 57 Asian men who their daughters say are involved. Of course it's not unusual for young men -- of all races -- to seek out younger girlfriends. So is the real reason why people are so concerned about what's happening in Keighley because in this case the men happen to be Asian?

Kath Tunstall, Bradford Social Services:

"This is a problem of young men exploiting young girls. Regardless of what the minority background is. If this was white men or black girls that is not the issue for us here. This is a child protection issue that we are all working together to tackle.

For police and social services the key problem has been the fact that girls often don't believe they are being exploited.

Supt. Mark Whyman, West Yorkshire Police:

"What I want to do with them as a police officer and a father is arrest people who abuse children who are paedophiles and who engage in hat behaviour. The difficulty we have is evidence, we need the girls because of their ages we need them to complain about what's happening to actually tell us that's happened to them and to do that in statement form and there's been a marked reluctance. We've carried out a very extensive investigation jointly with social services, we've approached the girls who've been named and there's been a marked reluctance among most of them to do that and come forward."

That's despite the fact that according to the two mothers we've spoken to sometimes this goes far beyond consensual sex within relationships. Both say their daughters have been gang raped -- one at the age of 13.

"Mandy:"

"On the fourth or fifth time of them going cruising and having a drink, her and a friend were taken to a flat, the flat door's locked, sat down drinking, the drink is spiced with GHB. All 4 men -- my daughter is taken by all four men in turn. Her whole body was shaking and she couldn't stop shaking from the effects of the drugs that she were given. My daughter said "You know what will happen mum, if we go to the police, you know what will happen". And I do know because I've had Asian men on the phone to me saying that if I send police to their house one more time then they will petrol bomb my house.

Supt. Mark Whyman, West Yorkshire Police:

"The mothers we've spoken to say their daughters have been raped, sometimes gang-raped, these are incredibly serious offences are they not, surely there's something the police can do if there widespread allegations of this kind of behaviour? The difficulty is these are allegations, the evidence is rather thin on the ground. However there are a variety of things we have done we have affected arrests we have arrested an offender for a very serious sexual offence and that will come to court and I'm sure when it's revealed what's actually gone on there that there will be preventative aspects. We're also doing disruptive activity, that means that some of these men are criminals, they are actually known to us anyway they are engaging in other criminal activity and there's things we can do with them in relation to enforcing the law, perhaps in relation to the misuse of drugs act and in other areas which will help."

Meanwhile social services are working with the girls to try to alert them to the dangers. The local MP applauds the work that's being done but is worried that by maintaining that race is not an issue, police and social services are failing to understand the real nature of the problem.

Anne Cryer MP, Keighley

"I believe there is a very strong cultural reason, it's nothing to do with the religion lets make it quite clear, its to do with the Asian culture, which wants these young men to marry these very young girls from their village, usually in Mayapore, and as with any other young men, they are seeking relationships elsewhere, and the sophisticated white woman wouldn't have anything to do with them because they understand that at the end of the day, they are just seeking sex not genuine relationships and therefore the only outlet left to them is to look for very young girls through this organised sex ring that we are seeing in Keighley."

Anne Cryer's a controversial figure who's attracted flak in the past for her position on arranged marriages. The Asian leaders Channel 4 News spoke to unreservedly condemn what's been happening but they also reject her suggestion of a cultural explanation.

Khadim Hussain, Community Leader:

"The statistics show at the moment that its the Asian men and white girls, but the problem isn't just confined to that group, there are other groups as well. My own information is there are Asian on Asian and white on white not being picked up and we are having discussions with the authorities to actually look at the broader picture and wider picture and try to address the issue as a problem which is not just confined to Asian...."

Channel 4 News:

"Well the problem is that in the police investigation all the men the girls were naming were Asian men. I mean, is there some reason, a cultural reason maybe, why Asian men would seek out girls in this way?

Khadim Hussain, Community Leader:

"I don't think so that culture has anything to do with it, if anything we can put a reason behind it is that the fact that if you look at the psychology of these young people, if you do any research, most of those young people are with no skills or with very little skills background. And probably they are they ones who have dropped out of the system."

The mothers say the fact the men are Asian isn't an issue for them -- they say they just want this abuse stopped. They met David Blunkett in person to argue that if criminal proceedings can't be brought because their daughters won't make complaints to the police then the law needs changing.

"Mandy":

We've stuck with it and we're determined to get a change in the law to enable parents to have the right to be the complainant. When you're daughter is being used and abused and drugged and raped by these men, this is, at the end of the day, that is what we want out of this. We want a change in the law."

Today the Home Office told Channel 4 News that the Criminal Justice Bill currently before Parliament includes provision to make reported evidence or "hearsay" evidence more readily admissible. As far as the mothers are concerned the change can't come soon enough.

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