Paedophile with conviction slipped through cracks in system

Updated November 17, 2019

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This week, Sohail Ayaz was arrested by police after the family of a 13-year-old boy registered a case against him for rape. — AFP/File
This week, Sohail Ayaz was arrested by police after the family of a 13-year-old boy registered a case against him for rape. — AFP/File

That an individual like Sohail Ayaz — a convicted pedophile in the United Kingdom with a known history of child sexual abuse and distribution of child pornography — returned to Pakistan after deportation, landed a job with the government and was free to do as he pleased is deeply troubling.

Read: Rawalpindi police arrest man for raping minor for 4 days, filming the assault

A Pakistani citizen, Ayaz, who in 2009 pleaded guilty in a British crown court to the most heinous of crimes — one count of penetrative sexual activity with a child; two of sexual activity with the same youngster, two of indecently photographing him, and one of distributing the images — was sentenced to four years in prison and subsequently deported from the United Kingdom.

At the time, Gregory Stone QC, the judge sentencing Ayaz had said: "One can only conclude that you are driven by powerful paedophile interests. Offences such as these cause immense damage to children. Society has utter revulsion for such activity which brings nothing but degradation upon vulnerable children." Pre-sentence reports, too, said Ayaz posed a "high risk of harm to children".

But despite this unequivocal and public pronouncement of his pedophilic tendency, Ayaz came to Pakistan and, unbeknownst to authorities, continued his criminal activities for years in Rawalpindi.

This week, he was arrested by police after the family of a 13-year-old boy registered a case against him for rape. Since then, Ayaz has confessed to sexually assaulting 30 minors — a nightmare admission which authorities in the United Kingdom had long ago predicted during his trial.

He is now being investigated for the sexual assault of dozens of children — a case which highlights how fraught with loopholes the system of information sharing is between Pakistan and the UK government.

In the UK, a convicted pedophile like Ayaz would automatically be added to the ‘sex offenders register’ which contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for a sexual offence. In the interest of public protection, British law stipulates that all convicted sex offenders must register with the police,and the child sex offender disclosure scheme – known as Sarah’s Law — allows parents, carers and guardians to formally ask the police to tell them if someone has a record for child sexual offences.

In some instances, British police even use technology to proactively monitor sex offenders and high risk offenders. For example, they may install software on an offender’s computer that alerts them in real-time, to any illegal content they may have searched for or viewed so swift action can be taken.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan there is no such register. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari on Friday said in the NA that the government has decided to develop one. There is also no mechanism by which British authorities would inform Pakistan of such an individual.

Rawalpindi CPO Faisal Rana told Dawn that the local police had no knowledge of his criminal history: “I believe he (Ayaz) came to Pakistan in 2011. We have no knowledge of his criminal history and nothing was conveyed to us. We don’t know why he was deported from the UK and whether it was due to overstay or litigation.”

He added, “There should be a mechanism, especially when it comes to sex offences with minors, where this information is shared with the government. An individual like him should be on the authorities’ radar and under constant observation. They should be geo-tagged till they have been completely rehabilitated.”

The FIA did not respond to Dawn's request for an official comment, but a source in the agency on condition of anonymity said no information was given to Pakistan on Ayaz’s history.

“If an individual is deported from the UK after serving his full sentence there, the FIA cannot pursue a case against him. If he has served a partial sentence, he comes with a document which authorises FIA to pursue a case against him. But no such document came with Sohail Ayaz,” the official said, adding that they were unaware of his conviction.

UK-based solicitor Mohammad Amjad told Dawn that the UK government does not routinely share criminal conviction records with the home country of the deportee. “If a Pakistani national is arrested in the UK, they have the right to contact the high commission if they wish but the British authorities are not under any obligation to inform them. It is not usual for authorities here to notify a foreign mission about crimes committed.”

He added that Pakistan should work with the UK authorities to develop a structured system of sharing information regarding convictions along the Jamaican and Albanian models, given the large Pakistani diaspora in the UK and the number of deportations taking place to Pakistan.

“Pakistan should insist on getting this information. This particularly so in the context of violent and sexual offences. Typically, anyone convicted of a sexual offence in the UK is required to be registered on the sex offenders register. However, anyone being deported would effectively be free from this future restriction which was part of their original sentence.”

In response to Dawn’s questions, the UK Home Office said it does not comment on individual cases.

Deported from the UK

Wanted in Italy, earlier reports suggest Ayaz entered the UK in 2008 on a two-year skilled worker visa, but was arrested after Rome-based police started an investigation into an Italian child abuser. They found the Italian suspect had been given details of 15 Romanian children by Ayaz. Ayaz was allegedly acting as middleman for a Swedish paedophile who said he could provide Romanian children for sexual abuse. Italian police informed their British counterparts who began their own investigation. A subsequent search of Ayaz's rented flat revealed more than 2,000 indecent images and videos, including pictures of very young children and of the abused teenager. Some fell into the most serious category.

It is not clear how long he was in prison for, but Ayaz was deported from the UK under the Borders Act 2007, which allows for the automatic deportation of foreign criminals. According to this law, the UK home secretary must make a deportation order in respect of a foreign criminal unless certain exceptions apply.

Had Ayaz not served his full sentence in the UK, upon arrival in Pakistan, a deportee like him would have automatically been seized by authorities at the airport and a case would have been registered against him. But none of this happened.

Former interior minister Rehman Malik, however, said there is no way for FIA authorities to know of an individual’s criminal history in a case like this.

“If the person is deported and doesn’t declare why he was deported, then he can go through. Many individuals just say they overstayed or that their passport was lost or expired,” he said.

He expressed frustration at the absence of a centralised criminal system which would go a long way in nabbing criminals.

A former interior secretary, too, said that the FIA has great room for improvement but that due to lack of funds and a low priority the system is not strengthened.

Interior Minister Brig Ijaz Shah told Dawn that the government is taking the Sohail Ayaz case very seriously. “The PM has taken notice and we have constituted a committee and put our best people on the case. We are going to go after this guy. We are trying to find out how he came to Pakistan and got a job if he was convicted of a heinous crime in the UK.”

Gap in the system

While the UK and Pakistan do share information on cases from time to time, lawyers in the UK say it is usually for very specific, high profile cases. In the absence of a mechanism through which the names of violent criminals, especially sex offenders, are shared between the two countries, authorities have no basis to monitor a would-be offender.

This is especially alarming because of the ongoing debate in the UK of the deportation of the Pakistani origin British citizens convicted in the Rochdale sex grooming case, a chilling saga in which Abdul Aziz, Adil Khan and Qari Abdul Rauf were among nine men jailed in 2012 for their part in a grooming ring which plied vulnerable girls with drink and drugs so they could “pass them around” for sex.

After their conviction, Aziz, Khan and Rauf were informed by the UK Home Office in 2015 that they would be stripped of their British citizenship, after which the home secretary would consider deporting them to Pakistan.

In an interview with writer Kamila Shamsie for the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last year, then home secretary Sajid Javid said stripping offenders of British citizenship could happen in extreme cases.

When pressed on the issue by Shamsie, who pointed out that Pakistan has no sex offender registers, Javid responded: “I’m the British home secretary. My job is to protect the British public.”

Last year, a court of appeal judges upheld a decision to strip the Rochdale gang members of their British citizenship. They are still in the UK but could be deported to Pakistan after serving their respective sentences.

London-based senior criminal barrister, Ali Naseem Bajwa QC, said: “The stripping of citizenship is something that happens extremely rarely. It is within the power of the Home Office to deport the defendant upon completion of the sentence. An executive decision is taken by the Home Secretary whether to strip the person of their UK citizenship. The test is whether deprivation of citizenship is conducive to the public good.”

He added that the UK and Pakistan will share criminal convictions if either country makes a specific request of the other about the criminal convictions of a named individual. “Otherwise, I do not understand criminal convictions to be routinely exchanged or shared,” Bajwa added.

“There is no mutual arrangement between the UK and Pakistan to notify them that they are sending them a criminal of any kind (whether sex offender or otherwise). Should such an obligation exist? Yes, I think it should for violent or sexual offenders. All persons entering Pakistan (whether being deported following the completion of their sentence or even as a visitor) should be automatically screened against the UK Sex Offender’s Register,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2019