A child prostitution ring which is sexually exploiting immigrant Roma children as young as nine is operating in Glasgow, the Sunday Herald can reveal.
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Our investigation has also uncovered: l That high-grade intelligence about the ring led to the mounting of the covert operations; l An eyewitness who saw at first hand the sexual abuse of Roma children on the streets of Govanhill; l The name of the key suspect thought to be the leader of the child prostitution ring - a Roma man from eastern Slovakia now living in Govanhill.
Last night, Superintendent Mike Dean, who is leading the inquiry from Gorbals police station, confirmed that undercover detectives were hunting those behind the child prostitution ring and called on the public to help the investigation.
Jim Miller, from Govanhill, told the Sunday Herald how he stumbled upon a child being forced into prostitution on Allison Street, one of Govanhill's main thoroughfares. Miller has already given a statement to the police.
"Roughly two months ago," said Miller, "I was out walking my dog at about 10.15 in the morning. The dog ran into a close which was filled with rubbish, bin bags and old bedding.
"It was dark, and as I walked through the close I saw a man with his trousers around his ankles having full sex with a young Roma girl who was about nine or ten. The man had made the girl stand on a car battery in order to have sex with her.
"The guy just looked at me," said Miller. "I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The wee lassie looked totally bewildered."
Miller says he hurriedly left the close in order to get the police and spotted a Roma man waiting outside. At the same time the man he had seen having sex walked out of the close, as did the young girl. The Roma man, waiting outside, took the little girl by the hand and got into a nearby car, with a third man at the steering wheel, and drove away. Miller said he noticed that the girl walked with a limp.
The Sunday Herald knows the identity of the Roma man believed to have been pimping the child. Police sources confirmed that he was known to the police and a possible suspect in the child prostitution ring.
Miller quickly located two police officers, informed them of the events and passed on the car registration number. Miller says that when he returned to the scene there was a used condom and tissues at the site. "I was almost hysterical by this point," said Miller. "I'd just seen a child being raped in broad daylight."
Police say they have received various reports of child prostitution in the Govanhill area. The ages of the children allegedly involved ranged from nine to 14.
Police are concerned that allegations could ramp up racial tensions in an area already under inter-ethnic strain. Many locals in Govanhill from the Pakistani and white communities are openly racist about Roma people.
Miller stressed he was speaking out because a crime had been committed against children, not because he was racist. "What I have a problem with is what I saw happening to that little girl in that close. It made me feel sick."
Another Govanhill resident, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed he saw an incident in which two boys aged between seven and nine - who appeared to be of Roma origin - were engaged in a sex act together in the backyard of his tenement building.
The man said: "I realise that this could be used as a recruiting sergeant by racists and the BNP, but I have to speak out as we are talking about child protection." The man feared that the children may have been abused.
A senior police source said: "We've had directed and targeted surveillance based on intelligence about the abuse of children involved in prostitution. This intelligence specified particular areas in Govanhill and related to the Roma community. At least six separate incidents involving the alleged abuse of children have been reported to us."
When asked if the allegations could have been exaggerated or made up by racist members of the community, the senior police source said: "In this case, I have to say that I think it's a matter of no smoke without fire. There have been many allegations by people in the area about child prostitution."
Undercover police officers involved in the Govanhill operations have been told that they must blow their own cover the moment it appears that a child is about to be abused. "We're there to save kids, not wait for a child to be abused up a close before making an arrest," the senior police source added.
There have so far been three separate periods of undercover surveillance in Govanhill - each lasting a week. The senior police source said: "Such action only takes place on the back of good intelligence, or if numerous sources of intelligence are saying the same thing."
Superintendent Dean said: "We are aware of allegations about child prostitution in the Govanhill area. Certain police operations have taken place but have so far failed to identify the perpetrators. I would appeal to the public to come forward if they have any information about this matter. The abuse of children cannot be tolerated.
"If we find any evidence of child prostitution we will come down with the full force of Strathclyde Police."
Dean said the allegations should not be seen as a reflection on the Roma community: "The Roma community would be up in arms itself if the people were aware of these allegations."
He added: "If anyone is offered a child for the purposes of child prostitution I want to hear from them immediately. If they do have information but do not want to come forward I would challenge them to look at their conscience."
Police sources say that the Roma man suspected of involvement in the ring was linked to agencies in Slovakia who brought Roma people to Scotland with the promise of jobs and housing.
The police say he makes some of his money in Glasgow as a gang boss by getting employment for Roma men in low-skilled labouring jobs or picking fruit and then taking a cut from everything they earn. He recently bought a new home in Slovakia. There is suspicion that he may also be involved in the drugs trade.