CARDIFF: An imam who sexually touched four young girls during Quran lessons at a mosque has been jailed for 13 years.
Mohammed Haji Saddique, 81, would call the pupils to sit next to him and read in Arabic from the Muslim holy book.
He sexually touched the girls in front of his class and slapped students repeatedly if they made mistakes during lessons.
Cardiff Crown Court heard Saddique – of Cyncoed, Cardiff – had metal and wooden sticks, which he used to poke the children as they studied.
Saddique, who taught at the Madina Mosque in Cardiff for more than 30 years, was convicted of the offences following a trial.
A jury found him guilty of 14 offences – six indecent assaults and eight sexual assaults – that took place between 1996 and 2006.
Judge Stephen Hopkins QC jailed Saddique for 13 years and ordered him to register as a sex offender indefinitely.
“All four complainants were very brave indeed in overcoming not only personal but cultural barriers which they faced in making formal complaints and giving evidence against you,” the judge said.
“There is a darker, deviant side to you which this trial has exposed. This was a gross breach of trust – parents sending their young, female children to be taught the Quran by you.”
Saddique, who insisted the allegations were a conspiracy by other members of the mosque, has “no idea” of the harm caused by his actions, the judge said.
The court heard Saddique was born in Hong Kong and moved to Pakistan before coming to the UK in 1967, eventually settling in Cardiff.
He was a member of the Madina Mosque and was involved in running it, including as a treasurer and teaching Quran studies to primary school pupils.
Classes took place four times per week after school and pupils referred to the imam as ‘Uncle Saddique’ as a mark of respect, the court heard.
“You would attempt to maintain discipline and concentration by tapping or slapping the child sitting next to you who didn’t read correctly,” the judge said.
“Every time one of these small children made a mistake you would slap them until they got it right and slap them for every mistake they made.”
Police first launched an investigation in 2006 following complaints by two girls but Saddique denied any wrongdoing.
The investigation was restarted in 2016 after two other girls came forward.
Saddique would touch the girls under their traditional loose-fitting clothing during his lessons, and rub them against his groin and legs.
In victim impact statements read to the court, the girls, now in their 20s, spoke of the lasting impact of Saddique’s offending.
Speaking of one, the judge said: “It has put her off religion, she deliberately doesn’t own a Koran.
“[For her] the ethos of going to the mosque at any time is that when you are there, God is protecting you.
Another victim said giving evidence went against “the culture and ethos of those who follow the Islamic faith” and she feared there would be consequences for Saddique’s conviction.
Representing Saddique, Caroline Rees described her client as a “frail and unwell” great-grandfather who was held in high esteem by his family and community.
“This is a man of 81 whose life expectancy is not good given his health and age,” she added.
The judge also made Saddique the subject of a sexual harm prevention order.
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Cronick, of South Wales Police, said: “As a result of the verdict and today’s sentence I believe there may be members of the community who may now feel confident enough to speak to the police or our support agencies.”
He urged anyone affected to call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, or the force on 101 quoting reference number 1600442164.