woman branded racist for bringing her Muslim sex abusers to justice
To a girl of 15, the Old Bailey can be intimidating at the best of times. To me, it was utterly terrifying. As the victim of a paedophile ring, I had been taken there so that I could familiarise myself with the court’s layout.
In a few months, I would be there for real, telling jurors the story of my lost childhood and praying they would believe me.
Two of my abusers had already threatened to kill me. Even in the court, I feared no one could stop these depraved men, all in their 30s, from leaping out to attack me as I gave evidence against them. The court guide assured me I would be safe, but nothing was going to allay my fears entirely.
Since the age of 13, when a man called Mohammed Karrar had stopped to talk to me in Oxford, I had been living through the kind of nightmare no child could hope to come through unscathed.
On the surface, I probably seemed an unlikely target for a paedophile ring. I had a loving mother, Elizabeth, and a comfortable middle-class home near the centre of Oxford. Elizabeth was my adoptive mother, however; she had taken me on when I was ten, and already a troubled child.
My parents had been feckless and uncaring; there were constant arguments, violence and danger. When I was five, social workers gave me to the first of a bewildering number of foster parents, none of whom got me the help I obviously needed.
Men who exploit children have a way of sniffing out the most vulnerable, and I was an easy victim. For months, Mohammed posed as a caring friend. One night, he finally persuaded me to try crack cocaine.
Then he had me. To pay him back for the drugs, he said I would have to have sex with men he invited to his grubby crack den. He slapped me around, threatening to kill my mum and Snowy, my dog. So I did as I was told. Whenever Mohammed called or texted, I tried to engineer rows with Mum so I could storm out. In my 13-year-old mind, I had no choice: if I didn’t go, he would come for me.
Mohammed was selling me for £250 to paedophiles from all over the country. They came in, sat down and started touching me.
If I recoiled, Mohammed would feed me more crack so I could close my eyes and drift away. I was a husk, dead on the inside.
One day, Mohammed told me: ‘Get on a train at 7.45 and go to Paddington station in London. Make sure you’re outside the McDonald’s there at 9.30.’
The judge told Mohammed he would have to serve a minimum of 20 years. Because the defendants were Muslim, the case had opened sensitive issues about race and religion.
So he would recognise me, the man I was to meet had been sent my photo. I found myself standing nervously in the busy station, waiting for the stranger who was going to abuse me. Finally, a man in his 40s sidled up to me. Slightly overweight, he wore glasses and was clean-shaven.
Going home, I told myself it hadn’t been so bad — he was polite and hadn’t been violent. That was how warped my perceptions had become.
The London trips became regular. Sometimes, I would be passed from one pervert to another. In Oxford, many of my abusers were of Asian origin; these men were Mediterranean, black or Arab.
Mum had no idea what was going on, though she was convinced an older man was involved. She kept trying to alert anyone who would listen; police, the local authority, politicians. No one seemed to know what to do.
Finally, social services took action but on entirely the wrong premise. They assumed the problem lay in the relationship between Mum and me, and so catapulted me back into the care system.
This solved nothing: I would be in residential units for weeks, but Mohammed always found out when I was back. He drove me around the country, the first time to a house in the North-West.
About 20 mostly Asian, Arab and black men were having a barbecue. I was told to sit next to three underage girls but not speak to them. They, too, were in short skirts and plastered in make-up. We were there to be sold.
After that came barbecues in other parts of the country. Most of the time, I was too out of my head to comprehend the scale of it all.
One man raped me in a seedy hotel room and beat me so badly I thought I was going to die. I later discovered he was Mohammed’s brother. I escaped by running into the road, clad only in a towel. The police were called and when Mum arrived, I collapsed into her arms.
From then on, she redoubled her efforts to stop me disappearing, but I always found a way. Each time, I’d come home broken. She tried to get me to tell her what was happening, and sometimes I nearly did. Then I’d fall asleep and dream of faceless men.
In search of comfort, I drifted into a relationship with a security guard in his 30s and in January 2008, I fell pregnant. I don’t know to this day if he is the father.
Mum said she would support me whatever I decided. I hoped my pregnancy might stop Mohammed contacting me, and for a while, it did. My mixed-race son, Noah, was born on August 29, 2008, and he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
A couple of months later Mohammed called and it started again: the men, the threats, the drugs. I would never be allowed to leave: I knew too much. It took a heroin overdose to finally break me.
I had always told Mohammed it was a drug I would never try, yet he stabbed me with a full needle. I blacked out and ended up in hospital. ‘You’re lucky to be alive,’ I was told, ‘your heart stopped.’ I realised Mohammed may actually have been trying to kill me.
Heroically, Mum suggested moving to another part of the country, even though her work and friends were in Oxford. The final straw came when Mohammed noticed our For Sale sign and called to say: ‘You’re going to die but, before you do, I’m going to cut your baby’s head off and send it to you in a suitcase.’
I went to the kitchen, where Mum was feeding Noah. ‘I want it to stop,’ I said.
For the first time, we went to the police together and I told them Mohammed was threatening and harassing me. They acted quickly, hauling him in and telling him never to contact me again.
If I had stayed in Oxford, I would either have killed myself or been killed. As it was, Mum and I found a new home in a South-West town. After nearly four years as a sex slave, freedom felt strange. Gradually, I learned to be a proper mother to Noah and a better daughter to Mum.
Then, at the start of 2012, Thames Valley Police asked to see me. They had been conducting a long-overdue investigation into sexual exploitation of young girls and wanted a chat. I told them everything, and by the end of March, Mohammed and his gang were in custody. Unbeknown to me, five other girls were telling police the same story.
Suddenly, I was petrified. What if the case was dropped or the men acquitted? I began having panic attacks. In court, I was shaking and felt nauseous, but as I gave my evidence I could feel a weight lifting. At certain points, there were gasps from the jury; I even saw one man crying.
Mohammed’s defence was laughable: he claimed I’d forced him to take drugs and have sex with me. His barrister, a woman, implied I was a racist because all the defendants were Muslim. Of the men in the dock, my evidence directly related to five. One was convicted of two counts of sexual activity with a child (not me). The others were found guilty of rape, child prostitution and other serious charges.
I was in court to see the judge pass life sentences on Mohammed Karrar, 38; Bassam Karrar, 33; Akhtar Dogar, 32; and Anjum Dogar, 31. The judge told Mohammed he would have to serve a minimum of 20 years. Because the defendants were Muslim, the case had opened sensitive issues about race and religion. My view is clear: they behaved that way because of differences in how they viewed women.
Statistically, there are more white paedophiles but the structured gang set-up seems to be associated with a certain section of Muslim men. I think that stems from a lack of respect for women….