The youngest of the 15 girls subjected to degrading abuse on an industrial-scale by a grotesque group of 20 depraved paedophiles was just 11.
Yet it is to the immense personal credit of the victims that they not only came forward, but had the fortitude to withstand a tortuous legal process and bravely relive their ordeal in court, in order to finally bring the perpetrators of these vile crimes to justice.
Aged between 11 and 17, they were targeted because of their very vulnerability, plied with drink and drugs, and then used and abused over seven years – and the seriousness of the sentences passed down to their abusers reflects the scale of child sexual exploitation that did take place.
However, these victims will need every possible support as they come to terms with what, to them, is a life sentence. It’s also testament to the persistence of those in the police and other justice agencies that successful prosecutions were mounted.
And, while these chilling crimes started in 2004, it is, nevertheless, important for some form of wider inquiry to be held to better understand how the victims came into contact with their abusers and whether anything more could have been done to prevent these inhumane crimes.
West Yorkshire Police, for one, accepts that opportunities were missed in the past to protect victims of CSE, but says better working practices are in place. It’s right that these protocols are scrutinised. And, inevitably, it will mean difficult questions having to be asked, specifically the background of their abusers, and parallels with similarly grim cases elsewhere. Nevertheless, the number one priority should always be the plight of the victims – and making sure that all public agencies are working together to lessen the likelihood of such reprehensible behaviour occurring again.