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Council acts over 'exploitation'

Social services bosses in Birmingham say they are taking "innovative" legal action in a bid to protect vulnerable children who may be victims of sexual exploitation.

Birmingham City Council says it has launched civil court proceedings against a number of men with the aim of protecting youngsters who may not understand what is happening to them.

Officials say they have asked a family court judge to make orders barring a number of men from approaching girls with the support of West Midlands Police.

A lawyer representing the council today outlined officials' thinking to a judge at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

Mr Justice Keehan has been asked to make orders against a number of men after social workers and police raised concerns about the welfare of a vulnerable 17-year-old girl who is in the care of Birmingham City Council.

Last month Mr Justice Keehan imposed temporary orders against several men following the launch of the civil court litigation by social services bosses in Birmingham.

And today he was asked to consider making those orders - which bar the men from contacting, approaching or following the vulnerable teenager and from approaching ''any female under 18'', with whom they are not personally associated, in public places - long term.

He is scheduled to hear evidence relating to six men at a series of trials.

Lorna Meyer QC today told Mr Justice Keehan that Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police had identified a "number of individuals" found to be "inappropriately" in the company of the 17-year-old girl.

Lawyers thought that there was not enough evidence to secure criminal convictions - on a beyond reasonable doubt basis - "at the current time".

But Miss Mayer said lawyers thought that there was enough evidence to obtain civil court injunctions - on a balance of probabilities basis.

And she said as a result the council had initiated proceedings in the Family Division of the High Court, with the assistance of West Midlands Police.

She said council bosses wanted orders barring the men from contacting the girl - or "any other female under the age of 18 years not previously associated with them" in a public place.

Miss Meyer said if long-term injunctions were made, and if any of the men were found "in the company of a vulnerable child" by West Midlands Police or Birmingham City Council, then lawyers would ask a judge to impose jail terms for contempt of court.

"Vulnerable children and in some case adult victims have often been groomed, persuaded or threatened," Miss Meyer told the judge.

"It can be difficult to empower the victims to come forward and give evidence against the perpetrators of the exploitation.

"This case does not rely upon the victim to give evidence."

She added: "Birmingham City Council have taken this innovative legal step with the support of West Midlands Police to help remedy that situation and to protect vulnerable persons where they are frightened or lack understanding of what is happening to them."

Miss Meyer said there was an "element of uncertainty" about the council's legal action.

She said a judge at an earlier hearing had described the case as "exploring the legal framework" under which a child could be protected and had suggested that the litigation was "new and strikingly novel".

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