I was bombarded with death threats from far right and Al Qaeda after prosecuting Rochdale sex ring – The Sun

OVER 24 years as a prosecutor, Nazir Afzal has helped thousands of crime victims, including the teenagers raped and abused by the Rochdale sex ring and victims of honour violence.

But he has also made a lot of enemies – on all sides of the political spectrum.

The married father of four, from Birmingham, has received death threats from the far right and had his name added to an Al Qaeda death list because of cases he’s pursued.

And he says he has feared for his family’s life in the past.

“In 2006, I got a visit from Special Branch who told me my name was on a verified Al Qaeda death list,” he tells the Sun Online.

“Then they told me that there was nothing they could do so I went home that evening and hugged my children closer.

“But the next day I was back at work doing what I need to do.

“In 2012, when I dealt with grooming gangs, I was on a far right death list.

“But if you're getting it from both sides you are probably in the right place, so it wouldn’t stop me pursuing justice. There's always a personal cost but you need to do the right thing.”

Nazir, who was responsible for 100,000 prosecutions a year as the North West’s Chief Prosecutor, tells his remarkable story in a new book The Prosecutor.

 


'I had to teach kids to use a panic button'

Birmingham born lawyer Nazir became a crown prosecutor in 1991 and a decade later was the youngest Assistant Chief Prosecutor in London, and the first Muslim in the role.

In 2011, he became the North West's Chief Prosecutor with a patch that covered Greater Manchester, Cumbria and Lancashire and a year later, he led the case against the Rochdale grooming gang, who raped and sexually abused at least 47 underage girls.

Incredibly, despite jailing 28 mainly Asian men for the sexual abuse of minors, Nazir was subjected to racial abuse and death threats, because of his own Pakistani background.

Even outside the court, a protester called him a “P**i bastard” and told him to go back to his own country, causing a colleague to respond “He’s the P**i bastard who brought the prosecution, you d***head.”

Nazir was bombarded with death threats and said he feared for his children’s lives.

“The reason they came from me was because I damaged their narrative that all minorities are the same,” he says.

“They created all this fake news on Facebook and somehow made me the one who didn't prosecute these nasty people and their followers fell for it.

“Suddenly, I had thugs demonstrating outside of my home and the police had to put a panic alarm in my house.

“I had to teach my teenage children how to use the panic alarm and they had to go to school in a taxi for three months, because they weren’t safe on public transport.”

Kids had to go to school in a taxi for three months, because they weren’t safe on public transport.

The 57-year-old lawyer admits to sleepless nights over threats, especially around the case of Dale Cregan, the Manchester drug dealer who murdered police officers Nicola Hughes, 23, and Fiona Bone, 32, in 2012.

“People were saying ‘his gang will come for you’ so there was an element of fear on the part of everybody involved in that case too.

“I've had my car tyres slashed 10 times during the last decade and somebody somewhere has it in for me – a lot of people do.

“My family struggled and I owe them so much because they didn't choose the job that I'm in or was in. Why should they have to suffer as a consequence of the choices and decisions I made?”



Brave 'Girl A' is still suffering 10 years on

Despite the terrifying threats, Nazir has devoted his life to helping the underdog, the downtrodden victims of crime, and securing justice against all the odds.

In the late nineties, when knife crime began to soar, he sought out gang members in bookies and bars in Harlesden, to talk to them about why they carried knives in order to advise police and help build their serious crime strategy.

In 2006, he became a champion for victims of so-.called honour violence after hunting down the killers of Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha – murdered by her father and uncle for leaving her violent husband – pursuing them to their native Iraq.

In the Rochdale case – recently retold in the BBC drama Three Girls –  he discovered that Greater Manchester Police and social workers had failed to help the teenage victims on numerous occasions, and he was determined that the men responsible were brought to justice.

But he refuses to see himself as brave, insisting it's victims like Girl A – one of three who faced her attackers in court to testify against them – that show true courage.

“People like her are on a different level altogether,” he says. “The bravery it takes to talk about intimate things and stand up as those girls did is immense. I’m in awe of them for what they've done and what they do.

“If you're 16 years old, and giving evidence for six days in a row with 11 defence barristers shouting and screaming at you, saying 'you’re a liar’, eventually it's going to take its toll.

“I am delighted that we got the case through, and that it led to a change in national policy which saw many more grooming gangs prosecuted, but I'm always concerned that when a trial finishes and the circus leaves town, the trauma remains.

“A decade on she is still suffering, as will every victim of this type of crime.

“But that's why it's so important that we get it right. They were let down by everybody before, from the police and social workers and by their parents. We had to make sure we didn’t let them down again.”


Deaf-mute child beaten, sexually abused and kept in a cellar

Nazir has met hundreds of survivors of sexual and physical abuse but none as vulnerable as the girl he calls *Safiya.

At ten years old, in 2000, the deaf-mute child was trafficked from Pakistan by a couple from Salford who forced her to live in their damp cellar, with nothing but a hard cold bed and work as a domestic slave.

Over the next nine years, she was starved, sexually abused and made to spend every waking hour cooking and cleaning.

She was regularly beaten, had her head smashed against the wall and battered with a cooking pot and was even stabbed in the stomach with a kitchen knife.

Safiya was only discovered after police, searching for counterfeit T-shirts after a tip off from Trading Standards, discovered her cowering in the cellar.

“Without a doubt in my mind, she was the most vulnerable person I've ever had to deal with,” says Nazir.

“She was deaf and mute, she suffered from severe learning difficulties, the only  'family' she had in this country were the people who trafficked her and were now abusing her, both physically and sexually and who were using her for free work.

The only  'family' she had in this country were the people who trafficked her and were now abusing her, both physically and sexually

“She couldn't speak any language. She arrived in this country at the age of 10 and, incredibly,  the Customs and Border Agency let her in on a false passport which said she was 19.”

This time the agencies pulled together with social workers teaching her sign language while police investigated the case.

The case took over two years to come to court and because of Safiya's emotional state, the judge allowed her to give evidence for just four hours day, over a seven week period.

Ilyas Ashar and his wife Tallat Ashar were jailed for thirteen and five years respectively for rape, trafficking and furnishing false information to obtain a benefit, in October 2013.

After securing a conviction against the couple, Nazir’s team also went for a confiscation order, seizing their house and handing over the £100,000 sale value to their victim.

Nazir, who has long campaigned for an end to modern slavery, says Safiya’s case gives him hope.

“Safiya is now rebuilding her life,” says Nazir.

“When I see people like her who have been rescued from a cellar with all the vulnerabilities she had, and is now educating herself and contributing to society, it helps me stay optimistic.

“It was a team effort and we should be very proud of the services we have that can do that, in such extreme circumstances.”


Tragedy behind desire for justice

Despite his optimism Nazir – the first Muslim Chief Prosecutor – has blamed success of the grooming gangs on political correctness and the authorities not wanting to appear racist.

“The areas of crime that I've been most notable for and most well known for – like honour based violence, forced marriage, child sexual abuse – were hidden in plain sight," he says.

“They were happening in our communities and people turned a blind eye, either too lazy to look for them or incompetent.

“Once I become aware of a problem, I will dig into it, I will try and find out more about it, and then try and resolve it.”

Nazir’s burning desire for justice is born out of personal tragedy.

At eight, he held his favourite cousin and childhood playmate Yasmin in his arms, as she died from dehydration on a long journey back from Pakistan.

Nazir – who recently lost his beloved brother Umar to the coronavirus – also reveals his dad’s cousin was shot by the IRA, while working in Northern Ireland.

“My family have been through the wars,” he says.  “We've suffered loss and we've suffered pain and suffering and so maybe I want to help because I know what feels like to be a victim.”

*Name changed to protect the identity of the victim

The Prosecutor by Nazir Azfal is published by Ebury Press at £18.99.

 

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