Child abuse continued for years in Oxfordshire because of institutional failings in the police and other authorities, according to a new report.
The Serious Case Review was commissioned following the 2012 arrests of over 20 men suspected of abusing girls in the county.
It noted similar failures to protect children elsewhere and concluded, “For all this to be the result of inept, uncaring and weak staff, and leaders who need to go, seems highly improbable.”
The report detailed horrific abuse suffered by six girls in Oxfordshire.
Victims were raped and abused with knives, meat cleavers and baseball bats. They were beaten and burned. One said the situation was a “living hell”.
Seven men were convicted in 2013 of charges including rape, conspiracy to rape, and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Yet the authorities saw victims as “very difficult girls making bad choices. They received much less sympathy as a result.”
One entry in the Missing Persons database describes a victim as “prostituting herself”. Another “deliberately puts herself at risk”.
A Criminal Investigation Department sergeant said a 14 year old appeared 18 or 19 and “initiated sexual intercourse” with adult men. Other victims’ accounts were “disbelieved or thought to be exaggerated”.
Police failed to pursue cases citing lack of evidence or victims’ refusal to cooperate. But when victims did come forward, police took no action.
One victim said, “I turned up at the police station at 2/3am, blood all over me, soaked through my trousers to the crotch. They dismissed it as me being naughty, a nuisance.”
The report found, “Victims made allegations or were found in dire straits after abuse yet ‘nothing happened’.”
One child was taken to hospital with injuries after being abused.
Police made “no inquiries” as to what had happened. The child was admitted to Accident and Emergency two weeks later complaining of assault. In 2006 the missing persons coordinator wrote to a number of senior police officers about two girls who were frequently “Mispers”, or missing persons. She said it seemed that finding them was seen as “not worth the effort”.
She added that children’s home staff had given “plenty of information as to the vulnerability of these girls.
“I don’t know what more can be done to ensure that these vulnerable Mispers are treated as a priority enquiry until one of them is found dead.”
Race was not the issue
Five of the seven men convicted in 2013 were of Pakistani heritage. The Daily Mail newspaper claimed this “discouraged police from acting”.
Yet the report said, “No evidence has been seen of any agency not acting when they should have done because of racial sensitivities.”
It added that “there was no evidence that the ethnic origin of the perpetrators played a part in the delayed identification” of child sexual exploitation (CSE).
The report looked at several reviews from various authorities. It said their “frankness” suggested that, had authorities been concerned about appearing racist, “it would have been uncovered and reported”.
And abuse wasn’t limited to gangs of men targeting victims on the streets.
Child social care services had information suggesting that three of the six victims had experienced sexual abuse in their family of origin.
Most had experienced domestic violence at home or in their birth families. Two had been removed from their homes for their own protection before suffering CSE.
Lack of resources for cases
The report highlighted the lack of resources available to help children suffering abuse.
“There were recurrent financial challenges,” it said. In 2006, while the abuse was taking place, Oxfordshire spent very little on Children’s Social Care (CSC).
“It was the 132nd lowest of 150 authorities nationally and the number of social workers was the tenth lowest in the country,” the report added.
Sometimes victims were placed out of the county to try and protect them.
Yet asking for such a placement “was seen as an unacceptable demand on budgets”.
One CSC report said “very vulnerable girls were left in unacceptable family situations for too long” partly because of “attempts to manage the pressure on budgets”.
Police described many situations where a Missing Persons report “was seen as a process, not a need to investigate”.
The report added, “Resources would have been overwhelmed by actively investigating every episode.”
It said child protection was seen as a priority but wasn’t “always in formal priorities set by the government”.
Report: abuse was ‘organised’
The report was commissioned by Maggie Blyth. It said there was a “commercial aspect” to the abuse.
Victims were “hired out for up to hundreds of pounds, and trafficked and sold for sex”.
It said that some girls were also made to deal drugs. Police said the abuse was “organised”.
Failure links to Cameron
Councillor Louise Chapman was responsible for child protection between 2005 and 2012.
She represents Witney West in David Cameron’s constituency in Oxfordshire.
Her father, Barry Norton, has led Cameron’s campaign team in three general elections since 2000.
Many crimes not recorded
The report found “confusion related to a national culture where children are sexualised at an ever younger age”.
As a result some crimes were not recorded as such. Police admit that “many more” should have been.