Victims blamed for child sex abuse as Oxford council chief faces calls to quit over exploitation ring

Deputy Children’s Commissioner says senior child protection figures said the issue was of the victims' own making

Victims of child sex exploitation are still being blamed for their own abuse by the people responsible for protecting them, the author of a major study into sex trafficking gangs has said.

Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz told the Independent she has spoken to senior child protection figures who said the issue was of the children's own making.

Her comments, which follow the convictions of seven members of the Oxford child sex gang, come as pressure mounts on the chief executive of Oxfordshire County Council Joanna Simons to resign over her organisation's failure to protect children in its care.

Five of the six girls who gave evidence in the trial at the Old Bailey were in the care of the council. Nevertheless, the gang was able to get away with raping, abusing and selling them for sex over an eight-year period.

Oxfordshire County Council has apologised for its failure to protect the girls. But chief executive Ms Simons said that although the council “take enormous responsibility for what's happened”, her “gut feeling” is that she will not resign.

Ms Simons said the council would be asking itself some “very hard questions” in the wake of the case, which involved girls as young as 11 being drugged and raped by members of one of Britain's biggest ever child sex gangs.

Ms Simons, who has been the council's chief executive since 2005, added: “There is going to be an independent serious case review which will look at the actions of all the agencies concerned... [but] my gut feeling is that I'm not going to resign because my determination is that we need to do all that we can to take action to stamp this out…These are devious crimes that are very complicated,” she told BBC Radio 4's the Today Programme.

Outlining the scale of the problem, Ms Berelowitz, whose office more than halfway through a two-year investigation into child sex gangs, said: “During the course of year one [of that investigation], we were still encountering very senior people at more than one local authority and one chair of a Local Safeguarding Children Board saying 'this is not a child protection issue because it is risky behaviour on the part of the children.”

She added: “The LSCB head said: 'yes, we have two girls like that who prostitute themselves'. [The girls in question] were 13 and 14 years old.” But she refused to name the specific organisations involved and said that she thought many of those in question were realising that their attitudes are not in line with the public's desire to provide protection to society's most vulnerable.

And Prime Minister David Cameron piled more pressure on the authorities which failed to uncover the gang for years, saying that police and council chiefs in Oxfordshire face “very searching questions”.

Mr Cameron expressed his horror over the targeting of girls as young as 11 when they were supposed to be in the safe keeping of Oxfordshire County Council.

Speaking in New York, he said: “The authorities - the police, social services, county council - everyone's going to have to ask some very searching questions about how this was allowed to continue for so long, and I know they are already doing that.”

The scandal follows the Rochdale child sex abuse revelations and the exposure of Jimmy Savile's activities over decades.

Mr Cameron, who is an Oxfordshire MP, said Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, were working to draw together the lessons of the various paedophile scandals.

He said: “As for the individual authorities in Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley, I'm sure they will have to respond for themselves in terms of what happened.

”But there will have to be some pretty searching questions asked about how this was allowed to go on for so long.“

And one victim of the Oxford gang, seven members of which now face lengthy jail terms, has accused Oxfordshire county council of lying about the support it has offered to her and her family. The girl, known for legal reasons as ”Girl C“, said that her adoptive mother begged social services for help in 2004 but agencies just ”passed the parcel between them“.

Two years later the council agreed to put her in a temporary care home, but by then she had fallen under the control of the gang, who plied her with crack cocaine.

She said: ”The council put out a press release claiming they had offered wraparound care to all the girls and their families, but the first we heard from them in five years was a letter on April 13 from [a senior council officer], where he says he's been 'closely involved in providing support' to me.

“That's a complete lie. My family have had no support or offers of help at all from Oxfordshire. Nothing. Not at any point. Not even a phone call. The last contact we had with the council was five whole years ago, when my mum was begging them to help her stop me go off the rails. They ignored her then and they've ignored us since,” she told the Guardian.

Girl C told police she was attacked by Bassam Karrar in a guest house in Oxford in November 2006 while he was said to be high on cocaine. Officers found the girl in the basement “extremely distressed, crying and shaking”.

She told police she had been held against her will, drugged, raped and repeatedly smacked in the face. The 14-year-old girl was taken to a police station where photographs were taken of her injuries. But she later dropped her complaint after pleas from another girl who was seeing Karrar at the time.

Thames Valley Police has also admitted its failings, saying that it was too reliant on the victims coming forward. However, the arrests which were finally made came after police began to fully understand the nature of a crime, about which most forces are still in the early stages of learning.

Officers began to forge closer relationships with the victims and with social services and other agencies in order to uncover and disrupt the abuse, rather than just work on cases which came to them.

“We have had to tread very, very carefully with the victims. You cannot build a relationship in a night, it takes months and months,” said Simon Morton, a former acting detective chief inspector with Thames Valley Police.

He added: “They have been through extreme abuse, possibly the most traumatic thing a child can go through - some were 10 or 11 when they had only just stopped believing in the Easter Bunny.”

Click here to watch videos of the defendants being interrogated by police

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Life and Style
fashionOne man takes the hipster trend to the next level
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'