Officers investigating child sexual exploitation in Telford have said their approach has been “subject to independent scrutiny” after it was estimated up to 1,000 children could have fallen victim to abusers over a 40-year period.
West Mercia Police said the Home Office had paid a visit to the Shropshire town last year after allegations of abuse – including cases involving girls as young as 11 who were drugged, beaten and raped – which were gathered by the Sunday Mirror.
Allegations reported to date back to the 1980s are said to have been mishandled by authorities, with many perpetrators going unpunished, while it is claimed similar abuse is continuing in the area.
One victim – “Holly” – told BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show she went to a sexual health clinic twice a week for three years to get the morning-after pill.
She said: “I was in cars that were stopped and searched by the police with older men. It was never questioned why I was in there or who I was.
“My name was never asked and I just think if they had been more proactive at points like that things could have changed earlier.”
Conservative Telford MP Lucy Allan said she had asked for an urgent question into the issue in parliament on Tuesday and has called for an urgent inquiry.
Seven men were jailed in 2013 following Operation Chalice, a police inquiry into child prostitution in the Telford area.
Assistant Chief Constable for West Mercia Police Martin Evans said: “Tackling CSE is, and has been for some time, the number one priority for police in Telford.
“We have specialist officers and resources in place tackling this type of offending and we are committed to using our resources and technology to pursue anyone who sexually offends against children – whether that offending took place today, last week or years ago.
“Our approach has been subject to independent scrutiny. Last year the Home Office spent time visiting the area and personally paid thanks to the commitment of our staff working to protect young people at risk from sexual exploitation.”
The statement continued: “The issue of offending against children has risen in profile as a result of a number of high-profile cases, including Operation Chalice in 2013.
“Since that time, we have been continuously focused on this area and work very closely with our communities to ensure that people know what to look for and have the confidence to report any issues they become aware of.
“We also work very closely with health and local authority professionals as the community safety partnership to ensure a co-ordinated response to these challenging issues.”
Mr Evans added: “In 2016, Ofsted said that partners were working well to tackle this issue. Yet we are not complacent and would welcome any further scrutiny of our work in this area and new ideas to help us tackle these crimes.”