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UK jails 9 members of sex gang who 'shared' teen girls

Greater Manchester Police

Eight of the nine men convicted Tuesday as part Greater Manchester Police's investigation into child sexual exploitation are seen here. Clockwise from top left: Abdul Aziz, Abdul Qayyum, Adil Khan, Hamid Safi, Abdul Rauf, Mohammed Sajid, Mohammed Amin and Kabeer Hassan.

LONDON -- Nine men were jailed on Wednesday for grooming and sexually exploiting girls aged as young as 13 in the north of England.

Five victims were "shared" by Kabeer Hassan, Abdul Aziz, Abdul Rauf, Mohammed Sajid, Adil Khan, Abdul Qayyum, Mohammed Amin, Hamid Safi and a 59-year-old man who cannot be named for legal reasons, The Guardian reported

The Times

The front page of Wednesday's Times newspaper, in London.

The men were aged between 24 and 59, all but one were of Pakistani heritage. The other was from Afghanistan. They were found guilty of conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child, the BBC News reported. Other convictions included rape, sexual assault and sexual activity with a child.

They were given sentences ranging from four to 19 years, the BBC reported.

Jurors were told that the men gave the victims alcohol and drugs and then would "pass them around" for sex, according to the BBC. Some of the victims were forced to have sex with "several men in a day, several times a week," the jury heard.

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The gang preyed on girls -- all of whom were white -- from "chaotic" backgrounds, the BBC quoted the police as saying. 

The men, who live in the run-down industrial towns of Rochdale and Oldham, were found guilty on Tuesday. Two others were acquitted after the 11-month trial. 

50 members of grooming gang?
It emerged after the conviction that police believed the grooming gang had 50 members, the Manchester Evening News reported.

Sentencing the men, Judge Gerald Clifton said they treated the girls "as though they were worthless and beyond respect," the BBC reported.

"One of the factors leading to that was the fact that they were not part of your community or religion," he added. "Some of you, when arrested, said it (the prosecution) was triggered by race. That is nonsense. What triggered this prosecution was your lust and greed."

Police and social workers have been accused of initially not acting on allegations raised in 2008 for fear of appearing racist.

"This is an absolute scandal. They were petrified of being called racist and so reverted to the default of political correctness," former member of parliament Ann Cryer told The Daily Telegraph.  "They had a greater fear of being perceived in that light than in dealing with the issues in front of them."

The tabloid Daily Mail newspaper ran the front-page headline: "Why did no one listen to teenage victims of sex gang?"

Cop: 'Not a racial issue'
However, a senior police officer involved in the investigation rejected calls for the case to be seen through the prism of race. 

"It is not a racial issue. This is about adults preying on vulnerable young children," the Telegraph quoted Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood of Greater Manchester Police as saying. "It just happens that in this particular area and time the demographics were that these were Asian men."

"I am currently running several other inquiries about on-street grooming and it is not Asian men," BBC News quoted Heywood as saying.

Nevertheless, the case was seized on by the head of the far-right British National Party (BNP), raising the specter of an extremist backlash.

The leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, tweeted before the jury had announced its decision that seven verdicts had been reached. It is not clear how he learned of the jury's decision given that strict reporting restrictions were in place. 

The case has already sparked protests by far-right groups. Greater Manchester Police said on Wednesday they were preparing for possible racially motivated violence. 

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