Children at homes 'abused in sex ring'

CHILDREN from residential homes in Buckinghamshire were involved in a sex and crime ring, it has been alleged. Two men have already been convicted and three others said to have been involved are to still to stand trial.

In another prosecution yesterday, a Buckinghamshire foster parent was jailed for a year after being convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in her care.

Buckinghamshire social services was widely criticised following its handling of the controversy over serious allegations of abuse in two homes in Stoke Poges.

The Independent has learnt that Milton Keynes police began investigating allegations that criminals were using children - some from local council homes - to commit petty crime and provide sexual favours, last September. Officers then mounted Operation Michigan, in consultation with Buckingham social services department. A source close to the investigation said yesterday that more than 130 children were spoken to and 55 were formally interviewed. About 10 children are believed to have been in care. One man has been jailed for 21 months and another placed on probation.

The source said there was no evidence of any link between the managers of the homes and the four adults who have since been charged. He added that Buckinghamshire social services conducted its own inquiry into the homes to establish how the children had been able to participate in the sex and crime ring, and whether any staff were to blame.

Buckinghamshire has never revealed its involvement in Operation Michigan before. In a statement issued last night, the council said: 'Eleven young people were said in evidence to have been sexually abused and one of them was accommodated by social services when the offences took place. There has been no suggestion whatever that any social service staff were involved in abuse in any way.' Its own internal report is to be considered later this month by the county child protection committee.

Buckinghamshire has announced that it is separately investigating allegations of abuse in another unnamed residential home.

Operation Michigan uncovered other evidence of abuse of children in council care. One of these inquiries culminated in the conviction at Northampton Crown Court yesterday of a 47-year-old foster mother, employed and vetted by Buckinghamshire County Council, for abusing a child in her care.