NINE suspected gang members stood in the dock at the Old Bailey today accused of grooming, abusing and exploiting underage girls in Oxford.

The defendants, aged between 24 and 38, spoke only to confirm their names during the first trial hearing at the historic London court.

The men deny 78 charges including allegations of child rape, trafficking for sexual exploitation and arranging or facilitating child prostitution.

The crimes are alleged to have been committed against girls aged between 11 and 16, and date back to 2004.

The men were arrested after police raids across Oxford last year under Thames Valley Police's Operation Bullfinch - headed up by Senior Investigating Officer Simon Morton.

A provisional jury of seven men and five women was selected but will not be formally sworn in until tomorrow morning. Prosecutor Noel Lucas QC will then start the case. His opening statement is expected to take two days.

Judge Peter Rook QC said the trial could last up to 12 weeks, but would finish by Friday, April 12.

And he told courtroom eight the first witness would give evidence next Monday morning.

The court's press section was full with journalists todayand the benches were packed with 19 lawyers wearing wigs.

Sitting furthest right in the dock, Jamil, 27, wore a dark blue shirt buttoned-up to the collar. His hair was cut short and he had facial hair on his chin.

To his left was short-haired Akhtar Dogar, 32, who wore a light grey jumper zipped up to his neck.

His brother Anjum, 30, who also has short black hair, sat next to him in a light turquoise jumper over a white shirt.

Assad Hussain, 32, who has a shaved head, wore a navy blue Adidas track suit top over a light blue shirt.

And Mohammed Karrar, 38, who faces seven rape charges, wore a buttoned-up black suit over a white shirt. He had a goatee beard and short hair.

Short-haired Bassam Karrar, 32, also wore a suit with a white button shirt.

To his left sat Mohammed Hussain, 24, who was dressed in a white button shirt with thin black stripes.

Next to him was 27-year-old Zeeshan Ahmed who had a trimmed beard, thick black glasses, and wore a light green shirt.

On the far left was Bilal Ahmed, 26, who wore black rimmed glasses and a white button shirt.

The Crown Prosecution Service yesterday added another count to the 50 count indictment, giving the jury a chance to choose to convict Mohammed Karrar of conspiracy to rape or with conspiracy to commit sexual activity with a child.

The court will not sit tomorrow while Judge Rook attends a funeral.

The trial continues.

  • Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council have a special confidential helpline for anyone concerned about a child who may be at risk of child sexual exploitation.

The police and council team are available to take calls from anyone with concerns about their children or children they know. The helpline number is 01865 266255.