It had been branded as Britain's worst sex-abuse scandal, with claims that up to 1,000 children could have been affected.
Concerns that Telford was the centre of an organised child-sex ring first emerged in May 2013, when seven men were jailed for a string of offences relating to four teenage girls.
Up until that time, the findings of Operation Chalice – a two-year investigation into a Wellington-based sex abuse gang by West Mercia Police – had been subject to reporting restrictions. But the conviction of brothers Ahdel 'Eddie' Ali and Mubarek 'Max' Ali, along with five accomplices, laid bare the crimes that had been taking place in the historic market town for years.
Ahdel Ali, then 25, was convicted of 18 offences. They included the rape of a 13-year-old girl, six offences of under-age sex with the same girl, three charges of controlling a child prostitute and sexual activity with a second victim, two offences of sexual activity with a child involving a third girl and offences of grooming and inciting child prostitution and sexual activity with a fourth victim. He was handed a 26-year extended sentence, with an order that he should serve 18 years in prison as well as an additional eight years on licence.
Mubarek Ali, who lived with his brother in Regent Street, Wellington, was convicted of seven offences; four of controlling child prostitution, causing child prostitution and two offences of trafficking children for prostitution. He received a 22-year sentence – 14 years immediate custody, with eight years on licence following his release.
Stafford Crown Court was told how the Ali brothers led a wider paedophile ring in the town, working with a network of associates from within the Asian community. Two of the four victims were sold as prostitutes to workers at local restaurants, while the others were encouraged to work as prostitutes. One girl was taken to a number of restaurants in the Telford area by the two brothers, Mohammed Ali Sultan and Tanveer Ahmed.
Some of the defendants worked as takeaway delivery drivers providing links with restaurant workers who provided the client base, paying £20 to £50 for sex.
Flats in the Wellington area, one controlled by Mohammed Younis, were used as brothels and Mahroof Khan’s flat in Kingshaye Road was a regular haunt for schoolgirls skipping lessons, where they had sex and were drinking and smoking cannabis.
The victims had sex in cars with the Ali brothers and Mohammed Choudhrey, or other men, having been driven to various locations in Shropshire and Staffordshire. A country lane near The Wrekin, an empty house at Mill Bank, a car park at Ironbridge, Dothill Park, playing fields at Wrekin College, a farm on the outskirts of Telford and a park at Stoke-on-Trent were identified by the girls.
Right up to the time of his arrest in 2009 Ahdel Ali was having sex with a 13-year-old girl he had raped, while was busy recruiting another 15-year-old to add to his portfolio of girls. Contact with the girl was revealed during Ali’s trial, showing his intention to enlist her “to replace” a child prostitute who became pregnant. Before being discarded, the four-month pregnant teenager was forced by Mubarek Ali to have sex with two restaurant workers because he needed some petrol money.
Ali Sultan, then 26, of Victoria Avenue, Wellington, received a seven-year sentence after admitting sex with a 13-year-old and another teenage girl, and controlling a third girl as a child prostitute.
The court heard how he twice took Girl A to a chip shop where she was paid to have sex with four men. It was said he first targeted the youngest victim when she was 12 and a year later had sex with her in his car. The second girl, who was 15, was taken to a house in Victoria Avenue, near his own home, for sex.
Ahmed, then 40, of Urban Gardens, Wellington, admitted selling a teenage girl for sex to a man in Oakengates. He was jailed for two-and-a-half years. Mohammed Islam Choudhrey, 53, of Solway Drive in Sutton Hill, was jailed for two-and-a-half years after admitting paying to have sex with a teenage prostitute controlled by the Ali brothers.
Mahroof Khan, 35, an unemployed chef, of Caradoc Flats, Kingshaye Road, Wellington, admitted having under-age sex with a teenage girl. Mahrood Khan, of Caradoc Flats, Kingshaye Road, was jailed for underage sex, but walked free after spending more than 900 days on a tag while on bail. Mohammed Younis, 60, had also been jailed the previous December for allowing his flat in Kingsland, Arleston, to be used for prostitution.
During the trials, four experienced judges heard distressing evidence from four young women, who told how they were abused over a two-year period while aged from 13-16.
One young mother told how, as a child, she had been sexually abused or exploited by seven men. She was regularly taken to be sold for sex to workers at a number of restaurants and takeaway outlets in the Telford area.
During the grooming process control over the young victims was exercised by encouraging them to drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, supplying cigarettes and takeaway food and offering lifts and mobile phone top-ups.
Det Chief Insp Neil Jameson, who led a team of more than 50 officers on the investigation, said: "After years of being exploited the girls then went through a huge amount during the course of this investigation, and the trials themselves were then a real ordeal for those that gave evidence."
Operation Chalice identified more than 100 girls who had been targeted by a child sex abuse gang, and it soon became clear that the seven convictions were just the tip of the iceberg.
These fears were confirmed in 2015, when Mohammed Ali Sultan was jailed for a further 11 years at Shrewsbury Crown Court after being found guilty of rape. In 2019, he was before the courts again, where he was jailed for a further eight years after being convicted of rape and three counts of indecent assault. His co-defendant Mohammad Rizwan, then 37, of Mafeking Road, Telford, was jailed for five-and-a-half years for indecent assault. Shafiq Younas, then 35, of Regent Street, Wellington, received a four-and-a-half year term for indecent assault, but was later cleared on appeal.
During that trial, Birmingham Crown Court was told how the victim was 'passed around like a piece of meat'.
Miss Michelle Heeley, prosecuting had told how the vulnerable girl had initially been befriended by pizza delivery driver Tanveer Ahmed – by this time deported to Pakistan for unrelated offences – at a low point in her life.
During the trial, jurors watched video-recorded interviews where the victim told detectives how she had been through two years of 'hell' and had repeatedly contemplated taking her own life as she was traded to different men for 'months and months'.
As concerns about the scale of sex abuse grew, Telford MP Lucy Allan raised the matter in the House of Commons and called for an independent inquiry into the matter in 2016. Telford & Wrekin Council and its partners tried to calm the situation, and assured the then-home secretary that an inquiry was not needed as ‘progress had been made’ and lessons learned.
But in 2018 it was claimed that as many as 1,000 children may have been abused by sex-grooming gangs in the town over a 40-year period. Claims were made that social workers identified the problem in the 1990s, but it was another decade before it launched an investigation. Council staff were said to view abused and trafficked children as 'prostitutes' rather than victims.
Tom Harding, then the superintendant in charge of Telford police, described the claims as sensationalism. He said he had no idea where that figure of 1,000 had come from, and said Telford was no different from any other town.
"Child sexual exploitation wasn’t even a defined category 40 years ago, so I have no idea how they have come to that figure,” said Mr Harding.
“I don’t believe Telford has a discernible problem compared to other towns. "Child sexual exploitation will be taking place all over the country and Telford is not different to anywhere else.
“Something on the scale of what was revealed by Operation Chalice wouldn’t be able to happen today without it being picked up.”
Mr Harding said the police now had officers who worked closely with the local authority to ensure the victims received support.