‘I was watching TV in my pyjamas with a glass of wine when the news came on,’ says Girl A. ‘Suddenly, the calm I’ve been working on was completely shattered. I felt sick and frightened, as though I’d been thrown back to where I’d been all those years ago.’
As a victim of the notorious Rochdale grooming gang – and on whom a character in BBC drama Three Girls was based – she receives complete anonymity. Now aged 25, she has been given a fresh start with her children in an undisclosed area of the South East.
‘A thousand girls being abused, three of them dying, and yet again, just like in Rochdale, just like in Rotherham, it had all been swept under the carpet,’ she says, speaking to Grazia via a trusted liaison. ‘Will they never learn the lessons? Will police and social workers forever try to cover it all up?’
Girl A was just 14 when she was lured into a web of paedophiles in Rochdale. For nearly a year she was systematically abused by scores of men, the majority of them of Pakistani origin. On one occasion she was offered to an abuser as his birthday ‘treat’. Throughout her ordeal, she was let down by both police and social workers. Some didn’t believe her. Others did, but still abandoned her to her fate ‘so they could keep their jobs and not make waves in the town’s ethnic community’. Eventually, at 19, she gave evidence at the landmark trial that saw the first British grooming gang – made up of nine taxi drivers and takeaway workers – put behind bars. But despite her courage, Girl A is still trying to rebuild a life scarred by the suffering she went through as an adolescent.
‘It’s been a nightmare to see what’s happened in Telford. There are so many echoes with what I experienced,’ she says. She too was tricked by an older girl into meeting with the men, who would circle local schools in their taxis. She was later subjected to threats that she would be killed or her home razed to the ground by arsonists if she attempted to escape the paedophiles’ clutches. ‘The gang that took me would pick me up from school and take me to a flat to be attacked.’
Girl A managed to get away from the gang, but fell back into the abuse in 2008 – where she would be driven around for men to pay to have sex with her and other girls – when the Crown Prosecution Service ditched her case. Four years later, the region’s then chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, a British-born Pakistani, reversed the original decision and a trial went ahead at Liverpool Crown Court in May 2012.
‘When I escaped, they threatened to burn my mum and dad’s house. They’d ring me constantly to try to get me to go back. They used to park taxis just up the road from our garden. I was so frightened of what they’d do to my family that I’d climb out of my bedroom window and slide down the porch roof.’
She realises she is one of the ‘lucky ones’. In Shropshire, five deaths are now linked to the inquiry – including the house fire murder of 16-year-old Lucy Lowe and drugs death of Vicky Round – which spans a period of 40 years. ‘But at least I survived. Some of the Telford girls didn’t. I feel so sorry for them,’ she says.
Now, she is vehement that those who turned a blind eye to the Telford abuse should be prosecuted. ‘They’re just as bad as the ones who let it happen in Rochdale, Rotherham and all the other places where it still goes on. Together, they’ve betrayed a generation of young girls – maybe more. As a country, we have to get to the bottom of this and sort it out once and for all.’
Girl A, who was driven to a series of suicide attempts during her ordeal, adds, ‘Seeing “Holly” give her TV interview about Telford last week was [like] watching a re-run of my own life. It was heart-breaking. I can’t believe that yet again the police are saying the figures are being sensationalised.’
For Girl A, despite repeated reports of abuse reaching police and social services from both her parents and crisis intervention workers, investigators failed to move in on her tormentors even though they had the chance to uncover cast-iron evidence.
‘They knew exactly what was going on. They just didn’t want to do anything to stop it. I’m sure they and the social workers knew everything. They knew the girls were underage, they knew the men abusing them were all Asian.’ Her claims that political correctness was at the heart of why it was ignored for so long have been repeated by many other women involved.
‘I’m sure it was exactly the same in Telford – people took the view that if a few girls got groomed and trafficked and raped, so what? Girls like that were at the bottom of the ladder and it was easy to make it look as though they’d made “lifestyle choices”. A lifestyle choice to be a kid being raped by gangs of men queueing up at the door? I don’t think so.’
For her, the main driver for change will be for police and social services to face up to what they’ve done. ‘They must have known it would only be a matter of time before they were found out. And now they have been, I hope they get everything that’s coming to them. They’ve betrayed girls like me day after day after day, and then got on with their lives.'
Girl A: My Story is out now, published by Ebury