Four men have been convicted of manipulating and exploiting teenage girls for sex, following two complex investigations by Essex Police into sexual offences and drug dealing.
One involved child sexual exploitation and drug dealing in Chelmsford, and the other was centred on child prostitution at escort agency, Girls4you, based in Shoeburyness.
Two men in the Chelmsford investigation were convicted yesterday (December 16) after an eight-week trial in relation to sexual offences and supplying drugs to an underage girl.
Here's everything we now know about the investigation into the Chelmsford based sex-gang:
When and why was the investigation launched?
Essex Police launched an investigation after receiving intelligence about suspected child sexual exploitation and drug dealing in December 2013.
During the course of their enquiries, a young woman came forward in April 2014 and revealed how Mohammad Rostami had groomed her into believing she was his girlfriend around seven years earlier, when she was aged just 13 or 14.
Who stood trial?
The victim revealed how Mohammad Rostami, 37, who she met at a pizza shop in Duke Street, had groomed her into believing she was his girlfriend when she was aged just 13 or 14, before farming her out for sex to other men in the Iranian community.
When his interest in her fizzled out, she was exploited by Mehdi Zare, who arranged for her to have sex with other men in exchange for drugs or money.
This ended when she left the area in 2010.
Rostami, a hairdresser, formerly of Shoeburyness, was found guilty of one count of causing or inciting sexual exploitation of a child aged under 18, two counts of sexual activity with a child aged under 16 and three counts of supplying cocaine, cannabis and mephedrone.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on a count of rape.
Zare, 32, a deliveryman, formerly of Chelmsford, was found guilty of one count of arranging or facilitating sexual exploitation of a child, one count of sexual activity with a child; and three counts of supplying cocaine, cannabis and mephedrone.
He was found not guilty of two counts of sexual activity with a child.
Amin Kaveh, 35, who shared a home with Rostami, stood trial alongside Rostami and Zare. He was found guilty on Thursday morning (December 15) of supplying a controlled class B drug, but was found not guilty of one count of assault by penetration and three counts of rape.
Yesterday, the jury found him not guilty of one count of causing or inciting prostitution for gain.
The jury acquitted Mehdi Khashi, from Rookes Crescent, Chelmsford, and Mohammed Hussein Zarei, of Delamere Road, Chelmsford of a single count of rape each.
Rostami met the girl when he worked for a takeaway in Duke Street, Chelmsford and befriended the vulnerable and troubled teenager and gave her alcohol and drugs, resulting in her becoming addicted to cocaine.
They started a sexual relationship before he manipulated and exploited her into having sex with much older men in return for drugs or money.
Mehdi Zare also arranged for her to have sex with other men in exchange for drugs or money.
Both Rostami and Zare both had sex with the victim when she was underage and Kaveh supplied her with class B drugs.
The victim left the area in 2010, but returned later, when Kaveh supplied her with the drug Dolly.
Where did it happen?
The victim met Rostami at CM Pizza on Duke Street, where he worked as a pizza chef. Central to the case was the loft space above it, where Zare also had sex with her when she was underage.
The loft space above CM Pizza
The pair also drove her to various addresses in London and Essex for her to have sex with other men in the Iranian community.
What were the key moments of the trial?
- Prosecutor Christopher Paxton opened the crown's case on Monday, October 17, claiming a gang of Iranian men sexually exploited and groomed vulnerable girls by supplying them with drugs.
- Rostami and Zare denied all charges and Kaveh admitted supplying drugs to one of the women, but not the other.
- The jury heard from three women, who claimed they were victims.
- The victim who was exploited by Rostami and Zare was accused of making it up as part of a police deal, under cross examination by Rostami's defending barrister, Janick Fielding.
- Following submissions by the prosecution, the judge directed the jury to find Kaveh not guilty on a charge of controlling prostitution.
- Police interviews with the five defendants were played in court, during which Rostami denied ever having physical contact with the victim who he was later convicted of having had a sexual relationship with and farming out. Zare also denied charges he was later convicted of.
- The crown's case was summed up on November 28.
- During the defence case Rostami and Zare chose to not give evidence.
- The jury was sent out to deliberate on December 5, after summing up by Judge Patricia Lynch.
- On Thursday, December 15, the jury acquitted Mr Khashi and Mr Zarei of the single count of rape they each faced. They also found Rostami guilty of causing or inciting sexual exploitation of a child and three counts of supplying a controlled drug. They found Kaveh guilty of supplying a controlled class B drug, but found him not guilty of one count of assault by penetration and three counts of rape. The jury found Zare guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child, in the loft space above CM Pizza on Duke Street, one count of arranging or facilitating sexual exploitation of a child, and three counts of supplying a controlled drug.
- In the afternoon, they found Rostami guilty on the two counts of sexual activity with a child, Kaveh was found not guilty of causing or inciting prostitution, and Zare was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child at Saracen's hotel.
- On Friday, December 16, the jury found Zare not guilty of sexual activity with a child in a flat in Meadgate, but failed to reach a verdict on Rostami's charge of rape.
- Rostami, Zare and Kaveh will be sentenced on January 12.
Previous drug conspiracy involving Rostami and Kaveh
The convictions follow a linked investigation into drug dealing involving mephedrone, known as Dolly.
Essex Police carried out search warrants on April 17, 2015 at three addresses in Cowpar Mews in Braintree, Renown in Shoeburyness and East Hanningfield Road in Chelmsford.
They seized mephedrone with a street value of around £10,000 from Rostami and Kaveh's flat in Shoeburyness.
The mephedrone (Dolly) seized from Kaveh and Rostami's flat
Items associated with drug dealing, such as drugs bags, mixing agent monosodium glutamate and mobile phones were found at all three addresses.
Rostami and Kaveh, as well as Asadollah Zare and Ebrahim Zare (who were not involved in the sex gang trial) were arrested and each charged with one count of conspiracy to supply mephedrone.
The court case ended in March 2016, however reporting restrictions have only now been lifted.
- Asadollah Zare, 40, unemployed, formerly of Cowpar Mews, Braintree, denied the charge but changed his plea to guilty and was jailed for four years on March 21.
- Ebrahim Zare, 42, unemployed, formerly of Cowpar Mews, Braintree, pleaded not guilty but was convicted and jailed for two years on March 21.
- Rostami admitted conspiracy to supply mephedrone. Kaveh denied the charge but was convicted by a jury and both will be sentenced on January 12, 2017.
What did the investigating officer say?
Speaking after the verdicts were announced, Detective Superintendent Mark Hall, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "Rostami and Zare took advantage of a troubled young girl and exploited her vulnerability.
"Rostami groomed her first with friendship and free food, which quickly degenerated into getting her hooked on drugs and luring her into sex.
"She believed they were in a loving relationship but he farmed her out to other men and used her addiction to drugs as a way of controlling her.
"When he lost interest, Mehdi Zare stepped to take over from where Rostami left off.
"What this young girl endured is beyond comprehension. She has been extremely courageous in coming forward and I pay tribute to her."
What did the victim say?
The young woman who Rostami and Mehdi Zare sexually exploited said: "I finally feel free. I have spent the last few years thinking they wouldn't pay for what they have done to me and others. I never thought anyone would believe me. I now feel a huge weight has been finally lifted from my shoulders.
"What happened has affected me in so many ways, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. I have been on self-destruct mode most of my life. I felt dirty and disgusting, like I did something wrong, and still do.
"I have lost friends and I nearly lost my relationship with my family.I lost relationships as I found it hard to trust not just men but anyone. But I am learning day by day that I can't let them beat me. I have now moved away and started afresh and am just getting on with my life the best I can, with the love and support from my amazing boyfriend and my family.
"If someone is trying to make you do something you either don't want to do or you know is wrong, then please speak to someone as soon as you can. You should never be made uncomfortable and made to do anything you don't want to.
"You can talk to the police, a school teacher or someone that you trust, but please do not allow what happened to me happen to you. There are people out there that can help you. You will be believed.
"There are bad people in the world and things do happen. People need to be more aware what is going on around them, and if someone suspects that someone is being exploited in any way then please talk to someone."
Separate investigation in Southend
A separate investigation was held into Girls4you after two 16-year-old girls came forward and told police they had been employed as prostitutes.
Stephen Castle and Steven Davis, who ran the business, were convicted and sentenced last month, November 2016.
Castle, 41, a computer programmer, now of Friday Street, Eastbourne, was jailed for a total of four years for controlling child prostitution, controlling activities of a person in prostitution for gain, possession of indecent images of children, distribution of indecent images of a child and being concerned in the supply of mephedrone.
Davis, 55, a former car salesman now of Vauxhall Bridge Road, Westminster was jailed for a total of two-and-a-half years for arranging or facilitating child prostitution, controlling prostitution for gain and being concerned in the supply of mephedrone.
Detective Superintendent Mark Hall, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "These predatory men committed sickening crimes against their young victims, targeting them because they knew they were vulnerable.
"They used and exploited them, either for their own sexual gratification or to make money from them. They were treated as nothing more than commodities and left to feel degraded.
"What these young women have endured is unimaginable. I pay tribute to them for their immense courage in coming forward and for giving evidence at court, enabling these men to be brought to justice.
"In doing so, they have protected others from being exploited by these dangerous and vile individuals."
Are there more victims out there?
The investigating officers in the cases said that they believe more victims are out there.
Detective Superintendent Mark Hall, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: "We recognise the courage and bravery of these victims coming forward.
"This type of offending takes place within all communities. It takes place in Essex, in our cathedral city, where there is another side of life.
"All the agencies are working extremely hard to ensure there is a full understanding of this."
Detective Superintendent Tracey Harman added: "A lot of young people in these cases don't see themselves as victims. These victims have been really brave.
"If there are others out there we would really encourage them to come forward.
"There are lots of other charities that work with children subject to this risk. We encourage them to talk to someone."