7 men convicted
in connection with
exploiting two
vulnerable children

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LONDON: Seven men have been convicted of offences connected to the exploitation of two vulnerable children. Two men were found guilty on Thursday 14 April of modern slavery offences, conspiracy to supply class A and robbery offences as well as attempting to intimidate a witness, following a four-week trial at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court. A further five men pleaded guilty in the days before the trial began.

According to Staffordshire police, concerns were raised to police regarding exploitation of a child in May 2019 which led to an investigation being launched. A designated team working with multi-agency partners investigated numerous allegations and visited many young people throughout a six-month period. This resulted in identifying two child victims and multiple offenders by February 2020.

A large-scale enforcement operation was carried out across Stoke-on-Trent in February and March 2020, which saw Qasim Rafi, Umar Rafi, Usman Rafi, Muazzam Naseer, Haroon Hussain, Paul Harnett and Lee Comley arrested. Mohammed Hassnain Shabir was later arrested in September 2020. 

The investigation, which involved Children’s Services at Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, found that victims were coerced and exploited by a group of men between March 2019 and February 2022. As a result, the children were arrested multiple times for drug offences, eventually disclosing the true nature of what occurred.

Officer in the case, Detective Constable Stuart Pearson said: “For the past two-and-a-half years a small team of detectives, supported by colleagues across the force and the two Children Services for the county, have investigated the exploitation of these two teenage boys.

“The boys were exploited by a group of men into dealing Class A drugs and committing serious crime on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

“The investigation had to be handled carefully and sensitively in order to ensure the victims and their families were safeguarded and that the full scale of the crime which the defendants had committed could be proved.

“Thanks to the dedicated work of all of the team involved, seven men have been convicted today.

“I would like to recognise the co-operation of the victims in this case who have helped us massively to ensure this successful prosecution and prevented other young people being forced into crime and a life of misery.”

Senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Stephen Ward, said: “I want to praise the courage and determination in these two boys for speaking out about their abusers.  For two-and-half years they have worked with police and partners, staying strong to achieve this outcome.

Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People, said: “Coordinated working between local authorities and the police is essential to safeguard vulnerable children at risk of exploitation and to disrupt and prosecute those would prey on them.”

Councillor Dave Evans, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for children and young people, said: “This case sends the strongest of messages to those who think they can get away with exploiting vulnerable young people: you will not be tolerated and the effort of responsible authorities will be used in partnership to stop you. This is a particularly sickening crime and it has no place in our city or society. The two victims have been incredibly brave in the face of the terror that these offenders have caused their young lives. We have worked to give the victims our every support throughout this case, and we, and partners, will continue to give them our every support. I would like to recognise the social work staff and police colleagues who worked closely together to ensure our children were safeguarded. This work is helping to ensure Stoke-on-Trent is a safer city for our children.

“We work with young people to educate them about the dangers of crime through preventative work we deliver with a range of partners. For example, the national Knife Angel sculpture is currently in the city and with hard-hitting educational activities will be taking place to show how knife crime can destroy lives.”

Umar Rafi, 29, of Jordan Street, Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, was found guilty of two counts of require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, arrange or facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation, cause the course of justice to be obstructed, perverted or interfered with (attempt to intimidate a witness/juror) and two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A controlled drugs (cocaine and heroin).

Mohammed Hassain Shabir, 22, of Bank Hall Road, Burslem, was found guilty of robbery.

Usman Rafi, 28, of Sandon Street, Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty on Monday 7 March to two counts of require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, two counts of arranging or facilitating travel of another person with a view to exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A controlled drugs (cocaine and heroin).

Muazzam Naseer, 24, of Grove Place, Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty on Friday 4 March to two counts of require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, two counts of arranging or facilitating travel of another person with a view to exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A controlled drugs (cocaine and heroin).

Haroon Raza Hussain, 28, of Havelock Place, Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty on 4 March 2022 to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, arrange or facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A controlled drugs (cocaine and heroin). 

Paul Malcolm Harnett, 44, of Penstock Drive, Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty on 4 March 2022 to two counts of permitting premises to be used for the supply of drugs.

Lee Robert Comley, 48, of Stoke-on-Trent, pleaded guilty on 3 March 2022 to being concerned in the supply of Class A controlled drugs (cocaine and heroin).

Qasim Rafi, 31, of Sun Street, Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent was found not guilty of require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, arrange or facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation and two counts of conspiracy to supply Class A controlled drugs (cocaine and heroin).