Telford council has called for an independent inquiry into cases of child sexual exploitation after revelations that up to 1,000 girls may have been victims of grooming gangs.
The council leader has made the call in the wake of an investigation by the Sunday Mirror which uncovered what the newspaper describes as Britain’s ‘worst ever’ child grooming scandal.
Telford & Wrekin Council leader Shaun Davies has asked the home secretary to commission an independent public inquiry to ensure the public have full confidence in the findings.
He said a council-commissioned inquiry would not be ‘appropriate’ as its independence and scope would be called into question.
‘The way forward must now be a Government commissioned independent inquiry, with terms of reference set by Government - any such inquiry commissioned by local agencies like the council or police could be seen as not being impartial,’ said Cllr Davies.
‘This must have complete independence.’
In 2013, seven men from Telford were jailed following Operation Chalice, a police inquiry into child prostitution in the area.
That same year the council commissioned the Local Safeguarding Children Board to conduct an independent review into the handling by police, the council and other partners of such cases.
However, the council has been criticised in recent years for what has been described as its ‘mishandling’ of reports of child sexual exploitation.
In 2016, the council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee revealed that the previous year 137 cases of suspected child sexual abuse were reported and only 45 were referred to the council’s Safeguarding Children board.
The council defended its record at the time, arguing all reports of such abuse were ‘appropriately recorded and thoroughly investigated’.
It cited a 2016 Ofsted report - which Cllr Davies referenced today - that found the council and its partners had worked well together to tackle this issue.
However, in light of the Sunday Mirror’s findings, Cllr Davies believes an independent public inquiry is necessary.
‘We have nothing to hide and have been transparent throughout – since I became leader 2 years ago, we have been inspected by Ofsted on this issue and been visited by the Home Office and Department for Education,’ he said.
‘However, I feel we must do everything possible to know and learn further from what happened in the period before Operation Chalice jailed seven men for vile crimes against children.
‘The council, police and other partners’ practice has changed dramatically.
‘However, I will welcome any further light that an independent inquiry can help shed on this vile crime and further improve practice here and the many other places in the UK where has and continues to happen.’
‘I accept and regret that some historic practices were not effective and some of the incidents referred to in recent media reports pre-date the council,’ he added.
Photo: ©Gordon Cragg