Two Hove men face jail after being convicted of raping and sexually assaulting under-age girls.
Osmon Koroma, a labourer, 31, of Norton Road, Hove, and Max N’Gasa, a gardener, 25, of Cranmer Avenue, Hove, were found guilty after a six-week trial at Lewes Crown Court.
The pair sexually exploited 12 teenage girls over four years and were convicted of 18 offences.
Judge Jeremy Gold ordered that the men be held in prison on remand while awaiting sentence on Tuesday 7 June.
Koroma was convicted of eight offences against five girls. They were one rape, two sexual assaults and five counts of sexual activity with a child.
N’Gasa was convicted of ten offences against seven girls. They were two counts of rape and eight counts of sexual activity with a child.
N’Gasa was found not guilty of one sexual assault and one count of trying to engage in sexual activity with a child.
All the offences were committed in Littlehampton between dates in 2010 and 2014 and in each case the jury’s verdict was unanimous. The court was told how the pair groomed their victims who were aged 13 to 15 at the time of the abuse.
The case followed an intelligence-led investigation by detectives from the Sussex Police Safeguarding Investigation Unit (SIU), working with partners including social workers from West Sussex County Council Children’s Services Department.
Police arrested Koroma and N’Gasa on Thursday 12 March last year. The two men were charged on Monday 12 October.
Detective Chief Inspector Miles Ockwell said: “Young girls were sexually abused by one or other of these defendants and sometimes by both.
“The evidence centred around a flat above a parade of shops in Wick Parade, Littlehampton. Osmon Koroma lived there during those years and Max N’Gasa was his friend and a frequent visitor there.
“Both men befriended young schoolgirls who would frequent the shopping parade, groomed them and ultimately exploited them by requesting sexual acts in return for purchasing cigarettes and alcohol on their behalf.
“Some of the victims knew each other but others did not, as this offending went on with numerous children over four years.
“Such was the level of grooming that took place, many of the girls considered that they were in relationships with the pair, despite the obvious significant age gap between them.
“Both men, when arrested and interviewed, made complete denials saying that they had never met and did not know the victims and they have maintained this position throughout the trial.
“In doing so, they have made their victims have to re-live their ordeals all over again by having to tell their stories in court.
“I want to pay tribute to all of the girls who had the courage to stand up in court and tell their stories.
“In doing so, they have undoubtedly saved other children who may have been targeted by this pair.
“This is a significant case in that it serves to send a message to those who might seek to sexually exploit children within our communities that we, Sussex Police, will work with the public and our partners to pursue offenders and bring them to justice as we have done here.
“It also serves as a message to the public that child sexual exploitation does occur in Sussex and it is important that we all understand the tell-tale signs that might suggest that a child is at risk being exploited.
“There is a lot of material available on the internet and I would encourage people to visit our website.
“Anyone who has any other concerns on learning of this case can always contact us via email@example.com or call 101 quoting Operation Staple and arrange to talk in confidence to experienced detectives.
“You can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
“Sources of counselling and support for anyone who is affected by news of this case or any similar cases is always available through the Saturn Centre (the Sussex Sexual Assault Referral Clinic) on 01293 600469 (9am to 5pm with a 24-hour answerphone) or on their out of hours helpline 0800 033 7797.”
Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne welcomed the convictions and said: “I want to send a clear and unequivocal message to those who seek to exploit our children and our most vulnerable: the people of Sussex will not tolerate your depravity and Sussex Police, with the help of the public, is getting better at finding you and bringing you to justice as they have shown today.
“Over the past four years I have scrutinised and encouraged Sussex Police to ensure that victims of exploitation, abuse and sexual assaults can feel as comfortable and as supported as possible talking to the police.
“To strengthen police capacity, I have funded a child sexual exploitation (CSE) analyst to map hotspots for CSE to help target resources and public information campaigns and to share intelligence and best practice with other agencies.
“However, the police and partners still need to improve their understanding and overall response to CSE.
“Allegations and reports must be handled better with quicker information sharing and earlier intervention where appropriate.
“That is why I welcome the serious case review that is being carried out by the independent West Sussex Local Safeguarding Children Board.
“I want to acknowledge the courage of the child victims who gave evidence and for their determination to reveal the extent of their exploitation.
“In this and other similar cases, young victims have had to face the trauma of a long trial which is why I will continue to fund a specialist service to support young witnesses and victims through the daunting criminal justice process.
“The most important point I want to make is this: we can tackle child sexual exploitation but we do need people to talk about and report it.
“If you think it is happening to you, your friends or family, please call the police or visit www.safespecesussex.org.uk/CSE for help and support.
“There is no need to be embarrassed or feel ashamed if you have been exploited.”