The Tasty Bites takeaway on the outskirts of Rochdale is open but it has a different name now and is under new ownership. Sadly, some places can never escape their notoriety. For example, the takeaway on Market Street. The horrible details of what occurred in the flat above the shop in Greater Manchester are not easy to forget once you know them.
A 15-year-old girl was once lured by a hulking, middle-aged brute.
‘Look, you’re my b***h now — if you cross me, I’ll kill you,’ he told her. ‘It’s part of the deal.’
The ‘deal’ in question began when he started giving her free kebabs, chips, cheap vodka — anything she asked for — and ended with him yanking off her jeans on the bed, under a Disney clock on the wall, to ‘collect his part of the deal’.
He urged her to call him ‘Daddy’ as he hauled himself on top of her.
These are present in the girl’s police statement. At least 50 under-age girls were groomed, raped and in some cases gang-raped at the Tasty Bites takeaway.
The victims were white, working class and mostly from broken or chaotic homes.
All the suspects, except one, were from Pakistan. Most were married with children, respected in their community.
Shabir Ahmed (‘Daddy’) and eight accomplices are being jailed for a total of 77 years in 2012, was the subject of the three-part drama watched by around five million shocked viewers last week.
Just one disturbing question remained when the final credits rolled: could this kind of abuse still be happening in Rochdale?
Shockingly the answer is ‘yes’.
Experts we spoke to in child protection confirmed what many have suspected for some time. But, even now, they remain fearful of going ‘on the record’.
Police always insisted the girls were targeted because they were vulnerable, not because they were white.
They deny any accusations that, to quote former Labour MP Ann Cryer at the time, they were too ‘petrified of being called racist’ to pursue the likes of individuals such as the odious Shabir Ahmed.
A recent report commissioned by the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner gives little cause for hopefulness.
The number of child sexual exploitation offences (‘grooming’) in Greater Manchester increased fivefold from 146 in 2013 to 714 in 2016, the study revealed.
Some 1,732 youngsters are currently identified as victims of exploitation or at risk of grooming — almost treble the figure from 2015.
Despite the rise in offences, the report acknowledges, grooming remains under-reported.
Even these latest disgusting statistics could actually represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
However, no details of ethnic backgrounds of offenders are given. The topic of race, in fact, is largely avoided, dismissed in a few sentences.
‘A small minority of British Pakistani men are criminal sex offenders as in other communities,’ the study concludes.
White men, acting alone, are responsible for most sex offences in the country.
But, judging by recent trials, street grooming gangs are disproportionately made up of a sub-section of British Pakistani society.
There have been at least 14 major trials, such as the ones in Rochdale and Rotherham; in Oxford, Derby, Leeds, Aylesbury, Telford, Banbury, Middlesbrough, Dewsbury, Carlisle, Burnley and Blackpool.
The prosecutions resulted in the conviction of 66 men, many from a Pakistani background.
The ongoing inquiry in Rotherham alone — which is expected to run until 2018 — has already identified 300 ‘predominantly’ Asian suspects.
But, how many times is the word Pakistani even mentioned in the 146- page Crime Commissioner’s report? Just five.
A honest assessment of the problem in Rochdale comes from individuals such as Liz Thirsk, who is a former Liberal Democrat councillor and the tireless campaigner behind the Rochdale-based group Parents Against Grooming.
The other day she met a woman whose 14-year-old niece had used her mobile phone to call a taxi recently. After the call, she gave the phone back to her auntie. About 30 minutes later the auntie received a call from the taxi driver. The taxi driver thought he was speaking to her niece. ‘Hi, are you ok,’ he inquired. ‘Do you want to come for a drink?’
Mrs Thirsk takes up the story. ‘The woman told him in no uncertain terms that this was not her niece’s phone and she was not a 14-year-old girl,’ she said. ‘As soon as the taxi driver heard her voice, he hung up.’ The taxi driver worked for one of the biggest cab firms in Rochdale. Most, if not all the drivers, are Pakistani men.
It is not an isolated episode. Mrs Thirsk, a 67-year-old grandmother, says that 12 men, all Pakistanis, are currently on bail on suspicion of grooming another girl, whose family have turned to her for help.
The girl is 15 now, but was 14 when she slipped through the net, like many of the girls who were violated at the Tasty Bites takeaway, after being placed in foster care.
‘She was staying out all night and not going to school,’ said Mrs Thirsk. ‘She ended up getting drink and drugs from these men in exchange for sexual favours.’ The girl is now back at home and, with the help of Mrs Thirsk, police are trying to piece together what happened to her.
Parents against Grooming have been told of an isolated car park, off Bury Street, where young girls have apparently been seen getting into cars late at night.
‘The bottom line is that this is still going on,’ said Liz Thirsk.
‘It hasn’t stopped and in my opinion it is not going to be stopped as long as we choose to be politically correct and refuse to admit that we have got a cultural issue here with some Pakistani men.’
Around 10 per cent of the town is Pakistani British and it has one of the highest concentrations of asylum seekers (more than 1,000) in the country. The town is consistently near the top of league tables measuring poor health, alcohol abuse and unemployment.
Last year, Rochdale also topped a list of the UK’s most struggling towns, ahead of Burnley, Bolton and Blackburn, compiled by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It is a world where the huge majority of victims of grooming gangs come from. Because girls from such backgrounds are regarded as worthless and ‘easy’.
These poor, wretched girls are simply easily available. For men like ‘Daddy’ Shabir Ahmed, from misogynistic backgrounds in rural Pakistan, do unthinkable things with Muslim girls and is somehow acceptable with white girls who they believe to be damaged and fair game for any man trapped in an unhappy arranged marriage.
The judge who presided over his trial said one of the reasons white girls were targeted was because they were not part of their ‘community or religion’.
Ahmed himself remains in prison after being given a 22-year sentence and is now engaged in a taxpayer-funded fight against deportation, claiming, with breathtaking irony, that the decision to strip him of his citizenship when he was convicted was a breach of his right to family life under the Human Rights Act.
For the record Ahmed’s wife and four children have disowned him and have moved out of the family home, an imposing Victorian terrace overlooking a park in Oldham, according to someone who still lives in the street
Only Ahmed, now 64, who once worked as community adviser for Oldham Council and one of his partners remain locked up. The rest of the gang are back on the streets of Rochdale.
They are not the only predators at large in the town, says former detective Maggie Oliver, who was instrumental in bringing Shabir Ahmed and his paedophile ring to justice.
Many of the alleged offenders named by victims were not officially recorded by detectives.
‘They are still out there right now in Rochdale,’ she says. ‘I still support many of the girls and they tell me they’ve seen them
‘Once a paedophile, always a paedophile in my book. This is still happening. It’s heartbreaking.’
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) would not comment on the claims but said they wanted to ‘reassure communities our priority is to protect children and young people, prosecute offenders and prevent further offences.’
The news that seven of the nine men in one of the biggest child abuse scandals in recent memory have returned to Rochdale after being released on licence or completing their sentence will do little to reassure them.
Among them is Abdul Rauf. Taxi driver Rauf, 48, a father of five, was a qari, reading the Quran for the worshipers at Rochdale’s Bilal mosque. In court, he could be heard constantly praying under his breath.
Rauf wept while admitting to having sex with a girl in his VW Sharan cab. It had been a ‘mistake’, he insisted, claiming the girl looked ‘maybe 30’. However, another girl, the prosecution’s main witness, told how she had been forced to have sex with him 20 or 30 times.
Rauf was given six years for trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with children. His wife is standing by him. But a few weeks ago, Rauf was spotted visiting his family wearing a baseball cap and glasses to disguise his appearance.
Neighbours called the police but were informed that he was entitled to visit his home on certain days under the terms of his licence.
Like Rauf, Abdul Qayyum was also regarded as a pillar of the community. A fellow taxi driver, he later set up his own vehicle recovery business from his home. Father-of-two Qayyum, 49, was given five years for conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child. Qayyum had a nickname. His victims knew him as Tiger. Qayyum was released three months ago after serving his sentence.
Qayyum’s wife was not the only person to stand by him. Two local councillors gave character references for him in court, praising him for his hard work and how he had ‘fully adopted the British way of life’.
After the verdicts, the two politicians issued public apologies for their ‘error of judgement’. Qayyum, they said, had betrayed their trust.