MP urges vigilance a year after child grooming trial

OPINIONS: MPs Nicola Blackwood and Andrew Smith

OPINIONS: MPs Nicola Blackwood and Andrew Smith

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Crime Reporter, also covering Barton and Wood Farm. Call me on (01865) 425427

A YEAR after the start of the Oxford grooming gang trial, millions of pounds have been spent and many measures taken to improve child protection in the county.

But an Oxford MP has warned the threat of child sex gangs still remains and the city should never be complacent.

This week last year details of the Oxford grooming gang were heard in public for the first time as the trial opened at the Old Bailey in London.

The 18-week case saw seven gang members jailed for a total of 95 years for grooming, raping and prostituting girls in council care for about eight years.

An independent serious case review is now underway and due to report back later this year on where police and social services went wrong.

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “In the meantime some good things have been done.

“But there is no room for complacency and the public at large have to be on alert for children being groomed and abused in this way.”

He said if the serious case review did not get to the bottom of any failings a public inquiry should be held.

He said: “There may still be a need for a public inquiry if we find the serious case review doesn’t paint a picture as to what went wrong and who was responsible.”

After seeing evidence in the trial first hand, Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood launched her Childhood Lost campaign that was backed by more than 100,000 supporters and has led to the Government announcing new powers to pursue civil court orders against suspected child sex abusers – even if they cannot be prosecuted in a criminal court.

About 160 people attended a conference on child sex exploitation hosted in Oxford by Thames Valley Police last Tuesday.

The force set up the all-day event at the Kassam Stadium with the county council and Crown Prosecution Service to share lessons learned from Operation Bullfinch.

Chief Constable Sara Thornton said: “Thames Valley Police and other local partners have learned a great many important lessons about how to tackle child sexual exploitation and the conference gave us an opportunity to share that learning with colleagues from all over the country.

“It was well attended and the feedback has been positive. I am grateful to all the speakers who contributed time and experiences.”

County council chief executive Joanna Simons said: “Working together with the police on Bullfinch, we have learned that successful prosecutions require a new approach by everyone.

“We need to make sure we see the child as a victim as opposed to a young person making bad choices.”

 

CHANGES SO FAR

  • Kingfisher – a 12-strong team of police officers and social workers based in Oxford
  • The budget for children’s services in Oxfordshire has increased from £24m in 2006/7 to £48m in 2013/14
  • Plans in place to improve work with schools, communities, faith groups and other organisations to educate young people and prevent exploitation
  • In July, the county council announced £7m plans to build four new children’s homes.

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