A gang of twenty-one people have been convicted of serious sexual offending against children in Walsall in the largest child sexual abuse investigation conducted by West Midlands Police.

The crimes committed by a “network of child abusers” took place against seven victims, aged 12 and younger, over a period of nearly a decade in Walsall and Wolverhampton.

The offenders carried out “the most appalling catalogue of sexual abuse of the utmost gravity”, according to prosecutors.

The case, which caused victims “physical harm and extreme psychological harm”, can only now be reported due to the end of the third and final trial in legal proceedings lasting 15 months.

The CPS and West Midlands Police conducted 70 suspect interviews and worked together for six years reviewing relevant evidence to bring the case to court, which was then split into three trials due to the large number of offenders.

Child sexual abuse convictions

Clockwise from top left: Tracey Baker, James Evans, Mark Smith, David Baker, Natalie Wellington were handed the longest prison sentences WMPWMP
Clockwise from top left: Tracey Baker, James Evans, Mark Smith, David Baker, Natalie Wellington were handed the longest prison sentences for child sexual abuse offences

Matthew Evans, 32, John Griffiths, 66, and Violet Griffiths, 66, were found guilty of multiple child sexual abuse offences at Wolverhampton crown court on Wednesday, and will be sentenced on 12 May. One more defendant was found not guilty.

Tracey Baker, 41, David Baker, 41, Luke Baker, 22, David Evans, 72, Philip Wellington, 50, Natalie Wellington, 44, Jason Evans, 25, and Ryan Evans, 23, were found guilty of multiple child sexual abuse related offences on 2 February after the second trial.

On 27 May 2022, James Evans, 38, Pamela Howells, 58, Lee Webb, 40, Kirsty Webb, 36, Mark Smith, 34, and Ann Marie Clare, 43, were convicted of multiple child sexual abuse-related offences.

Stephen Webb, 65, Dean Webb, 35, and Jane Evans, 71, were found not fit to plead and the jury decided they had committed the acts alleged.

The longest sentence was handed down to James Evans, who was found guilty of 20 child sexual abuse related offences and jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years, as well as being given a sexual harm prevention order for life.

Natasha Webb, 37, pleaded guilty before trial and is due to be sentenced at a later date.

Prison terms ranged from life to 28 months, while four of those convicted received non-custodial terms.

Prosecution

L-R from top: Ann Marie-Clare, James Evans, Jason Evans, Kirsty Webb, Lee Webb. L-R bottom- Mark Smith, Natasha Webb, Pam Howells, Philip Wellington and Tracey Baker WMP
L-R from top: Ann Marie-Clare, James Evans, Jason Evans, Kirsty Webb, Lee Webb. L-R bottom- Mark Smith, Natasha Webb, Pam Howells, Philip Wellington and Tracey Baker

Operation Satchel, began in 2017 when the offences were first discovered. West Midlands Police officers worked with social services to safeguard the children who reported the abuse and uncover the crimes.

“The offenders in this case perpetrated the most appalling catalogue of sexual abuse of the utmost gravity causing the victims physical harm and extreme psychological harm,” said chief crown prosecutor Joanne Jakymec.

“With the exception of one of the offenders who admitted what they had done none of the rest have shown the slightest remorse.”

DCS Paul Drover, head of the investigation, said: “This has been a challenging and complex investigation, and the biggest of its kind I have known for the force.

“But at the heart of it has been seven children who suffered the most abhorrent and cruel abuse, not just physically but psychologically, leaving them in extreme trauma.

“Their welfare has been at the heart of this investigation and support for them will continue for many years to come. I commend their bravery in being able to tell us about their abuse.

“I am grateful to everyone who worked so hard to get justice for them, and the jurors who had to listen to such a catalogue of depravity to reach their verdict.”

The convictions come a day after Home Secretary Suella Braverman said “almost all” members of grooming gangs were British Pakistani men who held attitudes opposed to British values.

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Craig Guildford said: “It is important to remain open-minded about who can commit these offences. They know no social or religious boundaries and it is important to remind the public and professionals to report their concerns to the police, regardless.”

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