Lured by predators: Five men found guilty of child sex abuse
EIGHT men have been convicted of plying "vulnerable" teenage girls with alcohol, drugs and gifts before paying them for sex.
A jury took 12 hours to convict five of the predators, who all acted individually rather than as part of a gang, after three teenage victims gave evidence in a month-long trial. The three others had pleaded guilty earlier.
Prosecutor Mark Achurch told Derby Crown Court: "This case is about middle-aged men, in the main, taking advantage of the poor decisions of disadvantaged young girls."
The girls, who were 15, were believed to have been part of a bigger group of youngsters being picked up from the streets of Normanton and Pear Tree for sex in 2009 and 2010. It is the second big prosecution where men in Derby have preyed on teenage girls.
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In 2010, 13 men were jailed for up to 22 years for a total of 70 offences in a police investigation known as Operation Retriever.
An independent inquiry launched in the wake of that case stated there had been "missed opportunities", with criticisms levelled at the lack of a coordinated approach from a host of agencies, including the city council, that were involved with the girls.
In both cases there were victims who were in the care of Derby City Council, which has since overhauled its way of tackling the sexual exploitation of children.
In this latest case, dubbed Operation Kern, two more men were sentenced last year and there were a total of six victims, including the three who gave evidence in court.
One of the victims told police the men had made her feel important, saying they had "put a sense of security around me but it was all fake – they were really clever".
The five men convicted yesterday were released on bail but told to expect "very substantial custodial sentences" when they return to court in September.
Nina Martin, from the council, said the findings in the Operation Retriever inquiry could also be applied to Operation Kern.
She said: "The girls involved in the latest case are effectively the same peer group as those involved in Retriever.
"From Retriever, we learnt that, in the past, our early identification of sexual exploitation was not as good as it could have been. As a result, we have put in place developments to address those issues. It is continual work and continual learning.
"Before, we tended to focus on the girls once a particular problem was identified. What's sad is there had to become a significant problem before those girls got help that could have turned things around for them."
The report from the Operation Retriever inquiry said that, once the offences were exposed, the agencies had worked quickly together to help the girls.
Ms Martin said child sexual exploitation was a national problem and the prosecutions in Derby were the "positive outcome of all the work being done" in the city.
She added: "If you want to sexually abuse children, then don't come to Derby because you will be caught."
Detective Superintendent Andy Stokes, head of public protection at Derbyshire police, said: "These convictions would not have been possible had the victims involved not been brave enough to come forward, speak to police and later give evidence in court.
"They were very vulnerable girls, some of whom came from unstable or difficult backgrounds. They were easy prey for these men, who made them feel important and safe.
"The girls at times felt flattered by the attention and were grateful for the gifts. But they gradually realised that what they were involved in was wrong, they were putting themselves at risk and that the men were exploiting them."
He said Derbyshire police had a dedicated team of officers who worked with other agencies, such as social care, to safeguard children and investigate cases of abuse.
He said: "The Deputy Children's Commissioner has warned that a disproportionate number of girls living in care homes are becoming victims of exploitation.
"We have continued to build a close relationship with all authorities in Derbyshire that are involved in the welfare of young people so we can work together to better protect children."