Telford abuse: Victim numbers 'sensationalised'

A police chief says he "significantly disputes" claims up to 1,000 girls were abused in the town.

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A victim told Victoria Derbyshire 'I was sold twice a night'

Reports on the scale of sexual abuse in Telford are "sensationalised", a police chief has said.

A Sunday Mirror investigation found up to 1,000 girls in the Shropshire town may have been victims of grooming gangs since the 1980s.

One victim told how she was abused at a "rape house" and the town's MP Lucy Allan said girls were being traded for sex in a "routine way".

West Mercia Police Supt Tom Harding "significantly disputed" the figures.

"I don't believe Telford is any worse than lots of places across England and Wales," he said.

The newspaper said an 18-month investigation found uncovered Britain's "worst ever" child grooming scandal involving "abuse on unprecedented levels".

It said the report found "groups of mainly Asian men" targeting vulnerable white teenagers in the town.

Supt Tom Harding said West Mercia Police "know" the scale of child sexual exploitation in Telford

In the wake of the story's publication, Nazir Afzal, who led prosecutions against one child sex abuse ring said those cases were the "tip of the iceberg".

"Holly" - a victim of child exploitation in Telford from the age of 14 - told the Victoria Derbyshire programme she went to a sexual health clinic for the morning-after pill twice a week for three years, but no-one ever asked her any questions.

She told how she was beaten with a belt and sold "two or three times a night".

Ms Allan called for an independent inquiry and said white working class girls were targeted because of their backgrounds.

"We are going to be focussing on why did this happen," she said. "That's what the victims want, that's what they need."

But Supt Harding, who is in overall charge of policing in Telford, rejected a number of the claims.

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White working class girls traded for sex, says MP

He said police and local authorities in Telford were working with "approximately 46 young people" who were victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) or considered "at risk".

Officials have "learned a great deal around CSE" and have invested large resources in tackling the problem, he said.

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"I am confident that, in the main, we do know the scale of CSE," he said.

"Therefore, I significantly dispute the 1,000 plus figure and do feel it is sensationalised.

"Read the headlines, read the reports. What are they actually discussing? They're discussing cases from 20 or 30 years ago, offending back in the 1990s.

"We've never said there aren't cases, there are always cases we are working on and seeking to prosecute."

Supt Harding disputed claims offenders are predominantly groups of Asian men, adding: "You look at Operation Chalice and that was a prosecution that happened to be a number of Asian males.

"What I would say is sexual offending across Telford and Wrekin is virtually identically proportionate to the break-down of society, so it is not one particular section over others and we will tackle it wherever it is."

Ms Allan said the seven Telford men jailed in 2012 "were of Pakistani origin, the victims were of white origin" and "that was the case in Rotherham and in other places across the country".

She added: "We shouldn't shy away from it and we shouldn't bury our heads in the sand."

But she agreed with Supt Harding that there had been "significant progress since Operation Chalice," adding that "no-one is suggesting there are 1,000 victims on the streets of Telford today".

She told BBC Radio Shropshire: "I want an inquiry to tell us why it has happened. Is someone responsible? Should we have done something differently?"

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: "It is self-evident that one of the reasons those kinds of horrific crimes were able to go on for such a long time is too many people in authority felt that they shouldn't say anything because they'd be labelled racist and that's completely unacceptable.

"Imagine if this was the other way around and imagine if there were white grooming, white gangs of men, grooming Asian girls, imagine the outcry that would have caused and equally there should be an outcry about what's happened here."

He added: "Going forward we can never, ever, have a situation that authorities feel that they can't deal with perpetrators of a crime just because they might be labelled racist or bigoted in any way."

Telford and Wrekin Council, which initially resisted calls for an inquiry focused on the town, has since pledged its support for the idea.

Council leader and Labour councillor Shaun Davies, has backed Ms Allan's plea and said his "absolute commitment is to victims".

Operation Chalice

Seven men were jailed in 2012 as part of West Mercia Police's Operation Chalice, including brothers Ahdel Ali and Mubarek Ali

Seven men were jailed in 2012 as part of West Mercia Police's Operation Chalice, including brothers Ahdel Ali and Mubarek Ali.

The force said more than 100 girls could have been targeted by the gang between 2007 and 2009.

Many of the seven men worked for or had connections with fast food restaurants across Telford.

Victims as young as 13 were plied with drugs and alcohol and sold for sex by men who posed as their boyfriends.

The men initially won the girls' trust by giving them presents such as mobile phones in an "almost boyfriend-girlfriend scenario", police said.

Speaking in 2013, Det Ch Insp Neil Jamieson said: "It then spiralled into them being shared with other men."

The girls were moved around the country for the purposes of sexual exploitation, he added.

Mubarek Ali was released in November last year after serving about five years behind bars. He was banned from returning to Telford and Shrewsbury.

Date: 14 March 2018 | Source: BBC

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