I was groomed by woman at bus stop & passed around men for a pack of fags – why were no Rotherham cops held accountable?
LYING on a filthy mattress in a squalid litter-strewn flat, teenager Elizabeth Harper* tried to zone out as she was raped by yet another stranger.
The 15-year-old, from South Yorkshire, had become a plaything of the sick Rotherham paedophile ring, who would go on to abuse her almost daily for four years.
Shockingly, the teenager was groomed by a woman – Shafina Ali, who she met at a bus stop near her home in 2003.
Ali – a white woman who had converted to Islam – lured Elizabeth to her flat, where she plied her with drink and drugs before inviting men to rape her for as little as a packet of cigarettes and a top up of her electricity key.
Throughout her ordeal, she says police and social services turned a blind eye and even arrested her desperate dad for breach of the peace when he tried to rescue her.
It was not until an exposé in The Times, some 10 years after her abuse, that Elizabeth realised she was not alone.
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In August 2014, an independent report concluded that an estimated 1,400 children had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, by predominantly British-Pakistani men.
Now Elizabeth – known as El – has opened up about her grooming and abuse in a harrowing new book, Snatched.
She tells The Sun the trauma she endured and her treatment by the authorities still haunts her.
“I have complex post traumatic stress disorder with anxiety and depression. I manage it well, but I do have blips with my mental health and I have been left with a lot of psychological damage," she explains.
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“I have flashbacks – including once waking to find Shafina Ali standing over me. I’m fortunate to have a good support network and the love of my family.
"We're a really strong family but it's affected my parents, especially my dad.
“He carries a huge burden of guilt and feels like he didn't do enough. He can't process the fact that it was never his fault, so it has done a lot of damage.”
Despite the failing of South Yorkshire Police – who reportedly knew about Ali’s involvement in child sex exploitation for years before she met El, and ignored reports the teenager was missing – no officers have been held accountable.
This month the last of 47 police officers to be investigated over their handling of historic allegations of child sex abuse in Rotherham was cleared of misconduct.
This was despite a report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct which found police had ignored child abuse for decades because of fear of racial tension.
“How can anyone allow children to be abused trafficked, raped and sexually exploited in the most horrific way and turn a blind eye due to that fear? I just don't understand that,” says El.
“With this latest news I think the IOPC report has been a total waste of time. It’s not only retraumatised the victims but it has cost the public a lot of money, too. Officers should have been made accountable.
“No figure of authority has ever taken responsibility for what took place.”
Plied with drink and drugs
El, the oldest of two girls, comes from a loving family but was having a turbulent time at school and had been playing truant when she encountered Ali.
Ali appeared kind and sympathetic and invited El to meet her ‘daughter’ Donna, offering a place of refuge at a flat while she bunked off.
She began to spend more time at the filthy digs, drinking rum and coke and later smoking joints.
Ali told her she was hiding there from her violent husband and faked assault injuries by hitting herself in the face with kitchen cupboards to gain El's sympathy.
After a few weeks Donna disappeared with no explanation. Little did she know, but El was about to become Donna’s replacement in one of the worst child sex scandals in UK history.
She began staying the night at the flat and, soon after, she was drugged by Ali then taken to a bedroom and raped by a 47-year-old man.
Bloodied and bruised, and hearing the pair laughing after the brutal attack, El was desperate to run home to her worried parents – but Ali’s hold over her was too great.
She knew exactly how to exploit my vulnerabilities and when the rapes started, she switched from being kind to cold and calculating
“I was a total mess,” she says. “She knew exactly how to exploit my vulnerabilities and when the rapes started, she switched from being kind to cold and calculating. That's when she got a full grip.
“Before I knew it I was in a vicious circle. They had that much power and control that I didn't really understand.
“I wasn’t eating so I was malnourished, I was absolutely filthy. I got to a stage where nothing mattered, but there was a lot of fear as well. I also felt loyalty to those people because of the grooming process.”
Parents accused while abusers free
Over the next few months numerous men came to the flat, each one raping El on the dirty bed while evil Ali smoked and drank downstairs.
El's frantic parents reported her missing on countless occasions, and police officers even visited her at the flat, but Ali’s hold over her meant she felt unable to speak out.
Tragically she says the authorities’ lack of concern "normalised what was happening".
El’s loving parents were accused of harming her and had their home raided, even after they informed police where she was living and El was visited by a child protection officer.
In her book, El tells how South Yorkshire Police suspected her dad had hidden – or worse, buried her dead body – in a council garage he'd recently rented and demanded to search it.
"Detectives would turn up unannounced and make my parents and younger sister stand aside while they rifled through all of our things," she writes.
"It was utter madness, yet in spite of my parents’ protests, the hundreds of logged calls and the fact that I had answered Shafina’s door to a female officer, SYP suspected my family of foul play and failed to offer any real help."
She claims on several occasions, instead of sorting out the problem, police "chose to ignore it and blame my parents" because it was "easier".
“The only person in that period who was criminalised and arrested was my dad. Not one of the abusers.”
5st and riddled with lice
After months of living at Ali’s flat, fed on a diet of drugs and drink and repeatedly abused, El was contacted by the charity Risky Business, after her desperate parents reached out to them.
By that time she had been starved so much she weighed just 5st and hadn’t washed for two months.
Her glossy brown hair was wrecked by a botched bleach job forced on her by Ali, she was riddled with lice and hooked on drugs.
The charity workers slowly coaxed her away from her controlling captor but, instead of going home, El was placed under a Police Protection Order because of threats her abusers made against her and her family, and was placed in hostels “for her own safety".
“Mum and Dad repeatedly begged me to return home, but I was terrified that something would happen to them if I did,” she says.
“The fear was always there, and it was real. My idea of reality had been completely distorted by Shafina and her friends until I didn’t know what normal was anymore.
“Another large part of me was shell-shocked and not ready to go home anyway, because of the shame I felt.”
Tragically, men from the ring continued to track her down and, still in the grip of addiction, she had sex with them to feed her habit.
When she was given a bedsit of her own, men crawled through the window to rape her. Wracked with shame, she blamed herself.
Kids aged 12 passed around and raped
She finally returned home at 18, still battling addiction, but began to turn her life around when her mum got her a job in a supermarket.
It would be years before she was brave enough to speak out about her horrific ordeal – spurred on by the August 2014 report by Professor Alexis Jay.
It found warnings of widespread child abuse had been ignored by South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council for decades, and vulnerable children left in the homes of their abusers.
Children as young as 12 had been drugged and raped, passed around to strangers for abuse, and numerous children had become pregnant.
One victim, Laura Wilson, had been groomed from 11 and, six years later, was stabbed to death and dumped in a river by Ashtiaq Asghar.
The council tried to prevent the publication of the serious case review naming the ethnicity of her abusers.
“I didn't fully realise what had happened to me until the Alexis Jay report came out,” El says.
“Police passed us off as having behavioural problems – classic victim-blaming.”
The report led to a huge police operation which saw 19 men and two women jailed for child sex offences between 2015 and 2017, with the ringleader, Arshid Hussain, sentenced to 35 years.
Karen MacGregor, jailed for 13 years for grooming girls and making them have sex with men, had set up a fake charity, Kin Kids, to help the carers of troubled teenagers
Shafina Ali, who died in 2009 and never faced justice, had also set up a fake rape crisis centre in Sheffield in a bid to lure troubled girls into her trap.
Asghar Bostan – the first man to rape El when she was 15 and he 47 – was jailed for nine years in 2018.
Throughout the trial and beyond, El was subjected to vile abuse on social media and her family were intimidated by gangs confronting them outside their home – on one occasion leaving a gravestone bearing her father’s name on the front lawn.
“I never thought I'd get any justice all the way through the trial,” says El.
“When we got the guilty verdict, I felt so relieved because somebody had actually believed me and knew I was never lying.
“The judge also told my parents that it was never their fault. Finally, someone believed in us.”
Parents and victims not alone
El decided to write her book to challenge stereotypes about victims not coming from loving homes, and all groomers being men.
“As a society we attach labels as excuses for women, that they're either a victim themselves or they've got mental health issues,” she says.
“Shafina was even more calculating and evil than the rest of those men put together.”
Now a mum-of-one, El uses her experience to help parents and professionals spot the signs of grooming and to counsel girls who are at risk of falling victim to abuse.
“I always blamed myself for the abuse, I felt ashamed and guilty that I destroyed my family," she says.
“It's only coming forward and helping others on a daily basis that I've realised that it wasn't my fault. That’s my way of protecting the children today."
*Name changed to protect identity
Snatched by Elizabeth Harper is published by Harper Collins and out now.
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