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Sex grooming public inquiry 'may be vital'
AN OXFORD MP says a public inquiry will be needed if an investigation does not get to the bottom of failings that allowed girls to be abused by the Bullfinch gang.
Andrew Smith, Oxford East MP, said the victims of the Oxford child sex ring deserved a clear explanation about how they were failed by organisations including the police and social services.
But he said he was worried a serious case review, due to report back next year, would not answer all their questions.
The independent investigation was ordered by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board and will attempt to discover why the abuse was not stopped earlier.
He said the purpose of the review was to learn lessons rather than to discover how it happened or who was culpable.
Speaking during a child protection debate in Parliament on Thursday, he said: “It seems to me there may well be a gap in accountability.”
The Labour MP added there should be a public inquiry if questions of responsibility were not answered in the review.
He said: “It has got to be transparent and the public has to be assured it is doing its job with absolute rigour and thoroughness... if that has not happened, there will have to be a public inquiry. There has to be no stone unturned in getting to the truth of this.”
Seven members of the Oxford grooming ring were jailed for a total of 95 years in June after an 18-week trial at the Old Bailey. They groomed, raped and prostituted girls as young as 11 in Oxford between 2004 and 2012. The trial heard five of the six victims were abused while living in children’s homes.
Mr Smith said anything other than a thorough review would be an injustice for the victims.
He said: “They have been through an absolutely awful time, really the most horrendous crimes. And the whole court process was very traumatic as well.
“They are owed the clearest possible explanation.”
Mr Smith also said he hoped any council or police staff that had retired or moved on to different jobs would be interviewed as part of the serious case review.
He said anyone responsible for the failings should resign, adding: “People have got to take responsibility and that’s at whatever level it is.
“I don’t want to anticipate the outcome of the review, but it would be completely wrong at this stage to rule out anything that might be necessary for people to properly be held to account.”