While they were going out, the British-born man of Pakistani origin was orchestrating what is believed to be the biggest sex-abuse ring ever discovered in Britain, involving up to 100 young girls.
Girls were ‘chatted up’ on the street and invited for drives, during which they were plied with vodka or cocaine before being taken to hotel rooms, parks or houses to be abused. Key to the men’s conviction was Toni-Marie, now 20, who bravely gave evidence against her ex-lover.
Talking exclusively to the Mail yesterday, she said: ‘When I discovered what he had done to those girls, I felt physically sick. He was the puppet master and all his mates were his puppets. Everyone did whatever he told them to do.’
There have been 17 court prosecutions since 1997 with 56 men found guilty of rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child.
Although these revelations were only the tip of an iceberg, I was pilloried for suggesting that the cultural backgrounds of the gangs were relevant to the crimes.
Yet yesterday, Radio 4’s Today programme carried an item in which a DJ on the BBC Radio Asian network said: ‘Men have phoned in to our show and said: “White girls are easy. Fact.”’
The report quoted another journalist who said some men have the so-called ‘Madonna-Whore’ complex — the idea that women fall into two categories: ‘virtuous’ women whom one marries, and ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ women who are used for sex.
He added that some Muslim cultures encourage the abuse of white girls, who are seen to be ‘whores’.
Mick Gradwell, a former detective superintendent, this week said the targeting of underage girls had been going on for decades but officers had been reluctant to comment because they feared ‘being called institutionally racist’.
Adding to the controversy, former Home Secretary Jack Straw also tackled the issue and described some of the white girl victims as ‘easy meat’ for gangs. But the Blackburn MP was accused of ‘stereotyping’ — implying the cases were symbolic of a ‘cultural problem’.
Toni-Marie’s remarkable story adds a disturbing insight into the crimes. What happened to this Derby schoolgirl nearly ruined her life.
‘He said I was supposed to wear things that covered my arms and he encouraged me to convert to Islam.’ She says they met when she was 14. She was shopping in Derby with a friend when she was chatted up by Saddique and Liaqat (who were in their early 20s). ‘Although I thought it was all a bit weird — someone just coming up to us and chatting — I was flattered by the attention,’ she says.
The couple — Christine, a former grammar school pupil, and Christopher, a retired builder — thought he was too old for their granddaughter. But they were afraid if they stopped her seeing him, she might leave home and run away with him or even convert to Islam and disappear from her family.
During their relationship, Saddique gave her a copy of the Koran to read secretly in her bedroom and told her she should cover her head with a scarf when she went out, in keeping with his Muslim faith.
As the relationship continued, Saddique took her to an empty house in Derby, owned by his parents, where they slept together. She would often return home with her eyes glazed, looking as if she had taken drugs.
Saddique encouraged her to distance herself from her family and friends at the care home where she had started working after leaving school.
But, in time, he stopped his charming act. ‘First, it was verbal abuse. But then he became violent. He grabbed me once and chucked me through a door over a stupid little argument.’
Despite all this, Toni-Marie says she couldn’t find a way out of the relationship. ‘He was constantly texting me, threatening me, waiting outside my house for me. Watching for me leaving work. He was desperate to control me.’
Once, when they had an argument, he punished her by locking her in the cellar of the empty house for three days, stripped to her underwear.
She says she was totally unaware that Saddique and his associates were offering girls rides in their car, plying them with alcohol and taken to parks, hotel rooms or houses, where they were forced to have sex.
He sped off with her and dumped her in her dressing gown in the middle of the night in a road three miles outside Derby.
Her family found her and took her home.
Saddique, though, wouldn’t be thwarted and when he came looking for her again and again, he was set upon by one of Toni-Marie’s relatives who hit him, breaking his jaw.
‘In one of the last conversations I had with him, he referred to his Land Rover as the “Rape Rover”.They knew the two had been friends and wanted to know about his lifestyle and the addresses he visited.
It was at this point, she says, that she learnt for the first time that her ex-boyfriend was a serial sex predator. Stunned, she spent four hours giving police a statement, recalling every detail of their two-year relationship.
Toni-Marie insists that she never saw girls being sexually assaulted by Saddique or went to the eight-bedroom house rented by Saddique’s gang in Derby where most of the abuse happened. The police confirm this.
One 21-year-old man, who witnessed the terrible scenes, gave evidence against the gang in court. This week he said: ‘The girls would scream to be let out. But the gang left two handguns, including a 9mm Beretta, in the sitting room. It was a warning about what might happen if they did not obey.’
On another occasion, a 17-year-old girl was filmed being gang-raped. The man recalled: ‘The girl was drunk and drugged. She began by co-operating and kissing one man. But when she was overwhelmed by him and others she started weeping “stop it”.’
Apart from feeling embarrassed by having been taken in by Saddique, she says she is not happy that he was sentenced to serve only a minimum of 11 years in jail.