WHITEWASH

Town council accused of ‘whitewashing’ its own investigation into child sex abuse

Telford and Wrekin local authority referred fewer than a third of 137 sexual exploitation reports in just seven months last year

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Leaders of a town with the highest rate of sex crimes against children in the UK referred fewer than a third of reports of child sexual exploitation made last year, it has emerged.

A report compiled by the local authority revealed that concerns
made by parents in Telford over the safety of their children were
ignored by the council and the police, with just 45 of 137 sexual
exploitation reports referred to the Safeguarding Children board in
seven months last year.

The report, by Telford and Wrekin Council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, revealed
parents thought “the police investigation was slow, the council and
social workers had been dismissive and communication had been poor”.

It added that parents said there had been “little joint working” and that “agencies had not wanted to accept responsibility”.

But no officials or staff members were disciplined following the
inquiry, and the council concluded agencies were “working well together”
on tackling the issue.

Earlier this year, the Home Office revealed Telford had the highest
rate of sex crimes against children in the UK, with 15.1 per 10,000
incidents reported in the year to September 2015 — a rise of almost 150
per cent.

In 2013, seven men were jailed in the town on charges of rape, sex
trafficking and prostitution involving girls as young as 13 as part of
“Operation Chalice”.

Following the report Telford and Wrekin Council West Mercia Police
and the Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board published an open
letter to Telford residents.

It read: “We would like to […] reassure you of the importance we place on tackling child sex offences in Telford.

Firstly,
we would like to be clear that we are under no illusion that like other
areas of the country there are significant concerns around the sexual
exploitation of children in Telford. It has happened in the past and it
is happening today.

We would like to assure people that every single report is appropriately recorded and thoroughly investigated.

“Like any town or city in the country, there are still children being
sexually abused in Telford and we will not rest while this continues to
be the case.”

The open letter was recieved with criticism from Telford residents when it was published on West Mercia Police’s Facebook page.

One local resident claimed she made a report that was ignored,
saying: “Local authority champion in the issue? Yeah right, that’s why
they completely ignored my report.”

Samantha Spearing, who works at TCAT College in Telford, raised the
issue that there was not enough education surrounding the dangers of
child sex exploitation.

She wrote: “There is not enough educating in schools and colleges in
the dangers around such issues. I have worked in both for over 10 years
and not enough is done to raise awareness.”

Police and Crime Commissioner for West Mercia Police, John Campion,
said: “Safeguarding in Telford and the wider West Mercia remains a top
priority.

“As Commissioner, I am not only working in partnership with other
organisations to tackle the issue but I also hold the police to account
for their actions and performance.

“We will not rest in the fight to keep our children and the wider community safe from those that seek to do them harm.”

Lucy Allan, MP for Telford, praised the Telford Street Pastors, a group of ununiformed volunteers from local churches who work to protect young people on the streets during the night, but emphasised that more needs to be done to prevent the occurence of child sex exploitation.

Ms Allan said: “In Telford, as in other areas, child sex exploitation has not gone away and under reporting continues.

“On a night out with Telford Street Pastors last year, I could
clearly see groups of men in high spec cars, circling a night club and
encouraging young women and girls to get in their cars. The Street
Pastors do an amazing job.

“There are many improved working practices and Ofsted acknowledges this. There is clear commitment to improvement.”

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