Telford child sexual abuse scandal failures to be re-examined

Media accused as pressure mounts for inquiry into child exploitation in Shropshire town

A wide-ranging inquiry into child sexual abuse is to interview victims and survivors in Telford following calls for a fresh examination of police and local authority failures in the town.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is taking an initiative called the Truth Project to the Shropshire town in order to give people the chance to talk in confidence with staff members.

“Child sexual abuse can take many different forms and we want to hear from as many victims and survivors as possible,” said the chair of the inquiry, Alexis Jay.

However, a local MP is continuing to call on the council to convene an inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children in the town, while many councillors say it needs to be independent of the council and should be set up by the Home Office.

With the Home Office refusing to do this, Labour-controlled Telford & Wrekin council is to hold a debate on a Conservative motion to mount an inquiry.

Amid the continuing fallout over the past exploitation of young girls in Telford, police officers and council officials have accused the media of sensationalised reporting by exaggerating the scale of the problem and by presenting historical events as though they were happening today.

Members of the public, meanwhile, have accused sections of the media of ignoring the scale of the scandal in Telford, alleging that journalists were shying away from the story because most of the victims of organised exploitation networks were white girls, and most of the perpetrators who were brought to justice were Muslim men of Pakistani background.

Police and social workers in Telford – in common with their counterparts in many other towns across England – accept that in the past they failed to take seriously enough the sexual exploitation of young people. Beginning in 2009, West Mercia police launched an initiative known as Operation Chalice, which resulted in seven men being jailed for a total of 49 years in 2013. A number of other men were subsequently prosecuted in separate trials.

Since then, both HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Ofsted have conducted inspections in Telford and concluded that West Mercia police and Telford and Wrekin council had overcome their past failings.

The Home Office also says the council’s scrutiny review, published two years ago, was robust enough and “does not suggest it is a council in denial”.

Earlier this month, under the headline “Worst Ever Child Abuse Scandal Exposed”, the Sunday Mirror linked sexual exploitation to five deaths in the town and cited Prof Liz Kelly from the child and woman abuse studies unit at London Metropolitan University as estimating that up to 1,000 children could have suffered.

The journalist who wrote the report, Geraldine McKelvie, has filed a number of reports from Telford and is the ghostwriter of a book about a young girl who was sexually exploited in the town.

Lucy Allan
Lucy Allan, Conservative MP for Telford. Photograph: PA

Lucy Allan, the Conservative MP for Telford, praised McKelvie in the House of Commons and is backing the Sunday Mirror’s demand that there be an inquiry into events in the town.

However, both Telford’s police chief, Supt Tom Harding, and the council leader, Shaun Davies, say the Sunday Mirror’s report highlighted crimes that had been committed a number of years ago.

Harding disputed the figure for the scale of the abuse that the newspaper attributed to Kelly. “I significantly dispute the 1,000-plus figure and I do feel it is sensationalised,” he said.

Harding said he did not wish to play down the seriousness of the issue, and accepted that all sexual offences are under-reported, but added: “We’ve worked with a number of young people over many years around child sexual exploitation and it’s nowhere near that 1,000 number.”

Kelly could not be contacted for comment.

In Telford, councillors and council officials say they recognise the need for an inquiry that would give a greater voice to victims, address unanswered questions and again examine lessons to be learned.

However, Davies has insisted that the council – which will be the subject of the inquiry, along with police and NHS workers – cannot convene it, as it would face accusations that it lacked impartiality.

“If you are serious about getting to the truth for survivors, a council inquiry just will not get it,” he says. “It will look like a circus.”

Allan disagrees, saying an inquiry that was set up by the council, but chaired by an individual with sufficient independence and authority, could easily and quickly get to the bottom of any outstanding issues.

The council has asked the Home Office to convene an inquiry, but it has refused, saying: “The government launched IICSA to get to the truth, expose what has gone wrong and learn lessons for the future. This includes institutional responses to child sexual exploitation by organised networks, such as those in Telford.”

Contributor

Ian Cobain

The GuardianTramp

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