A Somali sex gang jailed for 116 years for raping children as young as 13 got away with their crimes for six months due to failures by the authorities.
Victims of the abuse ring were groomed online and have warned children to 'stay away from Facebook' as it was revealed that police are being investigated for failing to stop the gang.
The nine vulnerable girls aged between 13 and 17 were preyed upon, sexually abused and trafficked across Bristol where they were mercilessly passed around the men's friends for money.
|One 13-year-old was raped three times at a Bristol hotel by gang members Jusuf Abdirizak, 20, (pictured checking in to the hotel) and Said Zakaria, 22|
The girl was pinned to a bed in the hotel room and raped by Zakaria, before he took her into the bathroom and raped her a second time. The girl went back into the bedroom where Abdirizak raped her
A total of 14 Somali men were jailed in 2014 following two trials at Bristol Crown Court for child exploitation or drugs offences. They received sentences ranging from 18 months' to 13 years' imprisonment.
The first trial centred on a group of Somali drug dealers based in the Stapleton Road area of Easton in inner city Bristol and their exploitation of primarily one teenager.
She had been moved into a flat on her own off Stapleton Road and left almost unsupervised by social workers from outside the city, who had not told the Bristol authorities she was there.
Liban Abdi, 22, Mustapha Farah, 22, Arafat Osman, 21, Idleh Osman, 23, Abdulahi Aden, 22, Said Zakaria, 23, Mustafa Deria, 24, and Deria's cousin Mohamed Jama, 22, were all jailed for between 18 months and 13 years for either child sexual exploitation or drugs offences.
The second trial focused on another group of young Somali men - but included Zakaria - and their grooming and subsequent sexual abuse of young girls in Bristol.
Mohamed Jumale, 21, Mohamed Dahir, 23, Zakaria, Jusuf Abdizirak, 21, Omar Jumale, 21, Abdirashid Abdulahi, 23 and Sakariah Sheik, 22, were all convicted of child sexual exploitation offences and jailed for between two and 11 years.
Avon and Somerset Police launched its investigation, codenamed Operation Brooke, in the summer of 2013 when officers went to the flat off Stapleton Road looking for a 14-year-old runaway and found her hiding in a cupboard in just her underwear.
The teenager had gone to the flat because she was the younger sister of the 16-year-old tenant, who had been placed there at short notice in 'supported living accommodation'.
Social workers left her alone with just two hours of supervision a day from care workers and quickly fell victim to the Somali drug dealers she met on the Stapleton Road.
In sentencing the men, Judge Michael Roach had questioned the wisdom of social workers placing the girl alone and almost unsupervised in the flat, which was run by an independent housing and support company.
'I hope there will be an opportunity for the authorities to reconsider their thinking behind such a placement because it has, on any retrospective view, added considerably to the damage of that young person,' he said.
Five of the nine girls who were preyed upon by the men spoke out during an independent review into the authorities' failings.
The girls warned other children to 'stay away from Facebook' and also spoke of 'the Jimmy Savile feeling' - which they described as telling someone if you feel unsafe.
Telling a teenager to stay away from Facebook or other social media is like telling them to stop breathing - it just isn't going to happen. But they should be taught to avoid talking to complete strangers, regardless of whether they are friends of friends. They should certainly be encouraged to NEVER meet in person someone they met online.
Their key tip was 'don't hang around with people that you are not willing to take home or that you would not hang around with together with their families'.
They also advised: 'Don't try to fit in with your friends by using drugs and smoking, try and have self-worth and self-respect and talk to an adult.
'True friends can be helpful but sometimes it is hard to see whom your true friends are and they may spread stuff about you around.
'Go home and call police, tell someone - don't worry about being embarrassed, it happens to others and they will understand.
'Speak to teachers, let counsellors talk to you and help you sort your head out. Try not to dwell on things that have happened, think of other things.
'Having someone work with your Mum and family really helps. Finally, if you feel someone is not safe - what was described as the Jimmy Saville feeling - tell someone, you are almost certainly right.'
Sally Lewis, independent chairman of the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board, said children faced 'pressures' from social media.
'You can see what an easy tool it is to misuse for perpetrators in every way,' she said.
'Increasingly the location for abuse happening is on the internet. In terms of the controls we place on the internet, we know it can be a hugely helpful place for learning, it can also be a very dangerous location.'
The multi-agency system is not set up to provide an effective response for adolescents (including those at risk of child sexual exploitation) with a complexity of needs at the time and pace they need it, leaving children with a fragmented and reactive response to different aspects of their behaviour.
A confused and confusing stance in national policy about adolescent sexual activity leaves professionals and managers struggling to recognise and distinguish between sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and/or underage sexual activity; this risks leaving some children at continued risk of exploitation in the mistaken belief they are involved in consensual activity.
The child protection process in England has primarily been designed for familial child abuse/neglect; in the absence of concerns about abuse or neglect by parents/carers, victims of sexual exploitation are likely to receive an inconsistent response to their safeguarding needs.
In cases involving sexual exploitation, there is a pattern of focusing primarily on trying to stop victims having further involvement with perpetrators, and less on the prevention of the abuse in the first place and the disrupting and prosecuting of perpetrators: this means victims often continue to be at ongoing risk of abuse by the same perpetrators.
Our current working methods and recording systems do not reliably identify patterns in individual and group behaviour. This reduces the chances of a timely response in the detection of victims and perpetrators of child sexual exploitation and leads to a more reactive rather than proactive approach.
The decision to make the investigation of these crimes into a complex investigation in May 2013 enabled the police to adequately resource an enquiry, which led to the successful prosecution of the offenders and the co-ordinated multi-agency support for the victims.
Local safeguarding children boards and the wider multi-agency partnership have collaborated to develop child sexual exploitation/missing strategy and action plans but these take time to embed so there is a disconnect between strategic understanding to drive improvement and the reality on the front line.