Friday, 25 May 2012

Do you forgive them?

Former councillor Zulf Ali (Lib Dem) and Coun Aftab Hussain (Labour) say they regret providing character references for jailed sex offender Abdul Qayyum

Rochdale Observer: Two councillors who gave character references for one of the men convicted in the Rochdale sex gang case have apologised for their 'error of judgement'.

Coun Aftab Hussain and former Mayor Zulf Ali say they regret defending Abdul Qayyum during the trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Qayyum, of Ramsey Street, Wardleworth, was jailed for five years for conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child.

Eight other men received a total of 72 years in jail after being found guilty of grooming vulnerable young girls for sex.

In written statements Coun Hussain, who represents Smallbridge and Firgrove and the then councillor, Mr Zulf Ali, told the jury Qayyum was a hard-working and valued member of the community. Now the pair say they regret providing the references.

Coun Hussain said: "I provided the reference in good faith as I had known him for a number of years and as far as I was aware he was of good character.

"People are innocent until proven guilty and I had no reason not to provide the reference. However I would like to sincerely apologise for my serious error of judgement.”

Mr Ali, who represented Central Rochdale before stepping down at the local elections earlier this month, said Qayyum had betrayed the trust he had built up with him over a decade.

He said: "It was a silly mistake which I now regret. It is something which will overshadow the 14 years of service I gave as a councillor which included a year as mayor.

"This man came to me in December last year and told me to my face that he was not involved with this gang and had simply been caught up in it because he had given somebody a lift. He told me he needed a character reference for the police to drop him from their investigation.

"I had known him all the time he had been in Rochdale which was over a decade and had no reason not to trust him. He lied to me, but by the time I realised how far he was implicated in the trial it was too late."

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