Tackling child sexual exploitation ‘top priority’ after abuse claims emerge
Policing and council leaders in Shropshire have reiterated their total commitment to tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) after fresh claims have surfaced of the UK’s “worst ever” grooming outrage.
Extra resources are now being dedicated to CSE as the police and crime commissioner (PCC) has promised the “horrific” crime remains a “top priority”. West Mercia PCC John Campion’s comments come after media claims that up to 1,000 youngsters could have been abused in Telford since the 1980s. In the wake of the claims in the Sunday Mirror, Telford MP Lucy Allan has renewed her call for a Rotherham-style inquiry into the issue – calling the reports, which include girls as young as 11 being allegedly drugged, beaten and raped, “extremely serious and shocking”. She said it was vital that the community had “absolute confidence in the authorities” over CSE. While West Mercia Police says the information it has received is “not new”, Mr Campion stresses that since taking office he has not only poured more funding into “protecting vulnerable people” but has “formally held the chief constable to account numerous times on this issue”. He added: “The force has made good progress and I am reassured that it is a continued area of progress. “I have reinforced victim services to ensure specialist support is now available to all victims of sexual violence. “There is no denial this horrific crime is happening in our communities now and has been for many years. “That acknowledgment, along with recent improvements, means more cases are being reported, more victims being helped, more criminals are being caught, and more children protected. “Keeping vulnerable young people safe remains a top priority for myself, the police, Telford & Wrekin Council and other partners.” Assistant Chief Constable Martin Evans said the force takes “all reports of child sexual exploitation (CSE), the systematic emotional, physical and psychological abuse of young people, and grooming, extremely seriously”. He pointed out the force has not only increased officer numbers to “tackle this type of offending, but use all of our resources and technology available to prosecute anyone who sexually offends against children whether that offending took place today, yesterday or decades ago. “We work alongside health and local authority professionals as the Community Safety Partnership, which my local commander, Superintendent Tom Harding, chairs. CSE is the partnership’s number one priority. “Last year government officials from the Home Office spent time visiting the area and personally paid thanks to the commitment of the staff working to protect young people at risk from sexual exploitation. “They also recognised the strong working partnership ethos between the police, social workers and health professionals.” Lucy Lowe, 16, was killed in 2000 along with her mother and sister after her abuser Azhar Ali Mehmood, 26, firebombed their home. She had given birth to his daughter at 14 but he was never arrested or charged over his abuse of the schoolgirl. Seven men were jailed for a total of 49 years in 2013 following Operation Chalice, a police inquiry into child prostitution in the Telford and Wrekin areas. Mubarek Ali, 34, sold teenage girls, some as young as 13, for sex above an Indian restaurant after grooming them. His brother Ahdel Ali, 27, was jailed for 26 years after the pair sexually abused, trafficked, prostituted or tried to prostitute four teenagers. But the inquiry – one of the first national complex critical investigations into historical grooming offences – identified nearly 200 perpetrators and the newspaper says authorities were warned of the abuse a decade before. An estimate of the number of victims was calculated with the help of Professor Liz Kelly, of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University, who reviewed the newspaper’s figures. Dino Nocivelli, a specialist child abuse solicitor, said: “These children were treated as sexual commodities by men who inflicted despicable acts of abuse. The survivors deserve an inquiry.” Telford and Wrekin Council said: “Child sexual exploitation is a vile, evil crime. Its statement added: “All agencies in the borough continue to work very closely together and we must leave no stone unturned. “Our approach to CSE is now very different from ten to 20 years ago. We have learned lots of lessons and made many changes. Telford will be covered by the national CSE review.” Mr Campion said it was important to remember that CSE crimes are “not limited to one part of society”, adding: This is an issue for communities to acknowledge, understand and tackle nationwide. “As a society we must unite against criminals, not our own communities.”