LONDON (AP) — Four men convicted of grooming girls for sex in a case that fueled racial tensions in Britain face deportation to Pakistan after a judge on Thursday upheld a government decision to strip them of British citizenship.
The ruling by an immigration tribunal clears the way for the men, all of Pakistani nationality, to be removed from Britain. They acquired British citizenship by naturalization.
They were among nine men of Pakistani and Afghan descent convicted of luring girls as young as 13 into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs. They were based in Rochdale, in northern England.
Among the four facing deportation is ringleader Shabir Ahmed, sentenced in 2012 to 22 years in jail. The other three are Adil Khan, Qari Abdul Rauf and Abdul Aziz.
Ahmed, who was convicted of rape as well as other charges, remains in custody, while the other three men have been released on license to serve their sentences outside of jail.
Khan, Rauf and Aziz were convicted on conspiracy and trafficking for sexual exploitation charges. Aziz was not convicted of having sexual intercourse with any child.
The judge at the hearing in the upper tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, Mr Justice Bernard McCloskey, described their crimes as "shocking, brutal and repulsive."
His decision rejected claims concerning human rights laws and a complaint of "disproportionate interference" with their rights.
The case centers on a decision by Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was home secretary, to strip the men's citizenship "for the public good."
The five victims of the gang who gave evidence in the 2012 trial were all white, and spoke of being raped, assaulted and traded for sex, being passed from man to man, and sometimes being too drunk to stop the abuses.
The men, ranging in age from 22 to 59, used various defenses, including claiming the girls were prostitutes.
The decision on Thursday was the first step in what could be a drawn-out process, and the Home Office must fulfill a number of steps before the men can be lawfully deported. The four men can apply for permission to appeal the judge's decision.
McCloskey told the hearing that the road to removing the men from Britain "involved all of the formalities, procedures, rights and protections which decisions of this kind entail."
Rochdale lawmaker Simon Danczuk said the four men who appeared at the tribunal on Thursday should be deported to Pakistan as soon as possible.
"Foreign-born criminals should not be able to hide behind human rights laws to avoid deportation," Danczuk said.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version to show that the presiding judge's last name is McCloskey, not McClosky.