Telford grooming gang: Police officer disputes 'sensationalised' fears up to 1,000 girls sexually abused

Police have disputed the figure and say they are currently in touch with 46 victims and people at risk

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 14 March 2018 17:15 GMT
Mubarek Ali ran a grooming gang in Telford, Shropshire, targeting vulnerable young girls and sold them for sex around the country
Mubarek Ali ran a grooming gang in Telford, Shropshire, targeting vulnerable young girls and sold them for sex around the country (West Mercia Police)

A police officer has disputed fears that up to 1,000 girls may have been sexually abused by grooming gangs in Telford, calling the figure “sensationalised”.

The local council asked the Government to commission an inquiry into crimes dating back to the 1980s, but has been told to launch its own probe into the actions of police and authorities.

Lucy Allan, the MP for Telford, told The Independent the council has accepted the recommendation and will commission an independent chair to run the inquiry, as happened in Rotherham.

"It would not be appropriate for the council conduct its own inquiry, and they have agreed to an independent inquiry which is to be welcomed," she added.

Ms Allan told the House of Commons work should start “without delay and leave no stone unturned” in giving victims answers.

Theresa May said she was “shocked” and paid tribute to campaigner Holly Archer and the Sunday Mirror journalist who brought the story to light.

"I think we have all been shocked by the horrific case that we have seen in Telford of some of the most vulnerable in our country being preyed upon by ruthless criminals,” the Prime Minister told MPs.

"Sadly, of course, this is not the first example that we have seen taking place across our country.

"I am pleased that the authorities are now going to conduct an inquiry: it is important that it begins its work in order to get to the truth and does that as quickly as possible.”

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

Lucy Allan MP said working class girls had been abused in a 'routine way' for 40 years

The newspaper called it Britain’s “worst known abuse scandal” proportionate to Telford’s size, comparing the scale to the grooming of 1,500 victims in Rotherham and saying girls as young as 11 had been drugged, beaten and raped.

Ms Allan said young white working class girls had been traded for sex in “a routine way” over 40 years.

“These young girls are too often white working class with multiple vulnerabilities and that is why the perpetrators are targeting them,” she told a Westminster Hall debate.

"It is also why so often they are miscast as bringing it on themselves, they are miscast as indulging in risky behaviour, as being promiscuous, as somehow being to blame for what is happening to them and in their own minds so often they also internalise that sense that they are somehow at fault."

Superintendent Tom Harding, of West Mercia Police, “significantly disputed” the figures and argued that the town was no worse than other areas of England and Wales.

He said police and local authorities were working with 46 young people who were victims of child sexual exploitation or considered at risk.

“I am confident that, in the main, we do know the scale of CSE,” Supt Harding told the BBC.

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

West Mercia Police said none of the cases reported by the Sunday Mirror was new to police and called grooming its “number-one priority”.

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Assistant Chief Constable Martin Evans said specialist officers and resources were already in place to respond to and prevent abuse, and work had been favourably reviewed by the Home Office and Ofsted.

“It is really important to me that anyone who feels they are a victim of such crimes, or that they know someone who is, can come forward - knowing they will be taken seriously and will be looked after, and that we will go wherever the evidence takes us to investigate these crimes,” he added.

Seven men were jailed in 2013 following Operation Chalice, a police inquiry into child prostitution in the Telford area.

Supt Harding said the prosecution “happened to be a number of Asian males” but added: “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.”

Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, raised concern that the duration of the horrific crime indicated that “many people in authority felt that they shouldn't say anything because they'd be labelled racist”.

“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,” he added.

Inspections by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Ofsted found that services responded to historic failings and have improved, with Telford and Wrekin Council's scrutiny committee having previously reviewed the response to grooming.

It follows other high-profile grooming cases, including Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Newcastle, where police warned similar abuse was “happening in every town and city across the country”.

A victim called Holly, who was abused in Telford from the age of 14, said she had travelled in cars with older men that were stopped and searched by police, but officers did not question why she was there or who she was.

Holly added that she would regularly attend a local sexual health clinic for emergency contraception, and had two abortions, but was not talked to by staff.

The woman told the BBC she was beaten with a belt and sold “two or three times a night”, adding: “I was gang-raped just after I turned 16…after that I tried to commit suicide.

“I genuinely wanted to die because I thought that was the only way out. I think if they had been more proactive at points like that, things could have changed earlier.”

The leader of Telford and Wrekin Council had called for the Home Secretary to launch an independent public inquiry into grooming gangs and said the authority had “nothing to hide”.

Shaun Davies insisted the council had been “transparent throughout” but acknowledged practices had changed dramatically over recent decades.

“However, I feel we must do everything possible to know and learn further from what happened in the period before Operation Chalice,” he added.

“I will welcome any further light that an independent inquiry can help shed on this vile crime and further improve practice here and the many other places in the UK where has and continues to happen.”

The Home Office said it has no plans to commission an inquiry and said Telford would be considered by the wide-ranging Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

“This was a truly terrible case of some of the most vulnerable in our society being preyed upon by ruthless criminals,” a spokesperson said.

“This Government is working to tackle child sexual exploitation, declaring it a national threat and making significant investment to bring perpetrators to protect children, support victims, and bring perpetrators to justice.”

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