Telford back in spotlight over child sex abuse claims
Claims that more than 1,000 children may have been sexually abused in Telford have put the town into the national spotlight amid fresh calls for a public inquiry.
The latest claims about the scale of abuse in Telford have surfaced more than four years after a police investigation first revealed the organised abuse and exploitation of children.
Demands for a dedicated public inquiry came from the borough’s Conservative councillors and MP Lucy Allan in 2016. They said victims and the public deserved answers over what had happened during two decades of abuse in the town.
Two national newspapers have reported cases going back several years, all of which have been featured in the Shropshire Star. Both the Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mail portrayed Telford as being home to one of the UK’s ‘worst ever sex abuse scandals’.
Reports from the Sunday Mirror claim that analysis of fresh evidence indicates that as many as 1,000 children had been abused by sex gangs over a 40-year period.
West Mercia Police said they were aware of the information in the Mirror reports but that “it is not new”.
Seven Telford men were jailed in 2013 as a result of Operation Chalice, during which police revealed they had identified more than 100 girls who had been targeted by a child sex abuse gang.
Telford MP Lucy Allan has repeatedly called for a “Rotherham-style” inquiry. In 2016 she said that an investigation carried out by Telford & Wrekin Council should have been followed by a dedicated inquiry.
In light of the latest reports Ms Allan has reiterated her call, and said an inquiry is essential for people to have faith in the authorities.
She said: “News reports in the Sunday Mirror concerning child sexual exploitation in Telford are extremely serious and shocking. There must now be an independent inquiry into CSE in Telford so that our community can have absolute confidence in the authorities.
“In 2016 Telford & Wrekin Council, together with its safeguarding partners, assured the Home Secretary that no inquiry into CSE in Telford was necessary as ‘progress had been made’ and lessons learned. In the light of these new allegations, I would urge the authorities in Telford to commission an independent inquiry at the earliest opportunity.”
In 2016 Telford & Wrekin Council rejected the call for a specific inquiry and said the government’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which is looking at how institutions across the country dealt with allegations of abuse, would cover concerns raised by Ms Allan.
A council statement issued in response to the article in the Sunday Mirror said: “In 2013, we commissioned our own independent review into CSE. In July 2016 this was covered by an OFSTED inspection and a visit by Home Office and Dept for Education teams in 2017. We have also put extra resources into tackling and preventing CSE here and asking the Government to give us further help.
“Following the 2016 inspection, OFSTED said: “Work with children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation is very strong. The local authority has been a champion for tackling this issue. It provides leadership to partner agencies, with who this work is well co-ordinated. Work to protect children who go missing from home or care is thorough and improving.
“There is a strong commitment from the local authority and its partners to tackle child sexual exploitation... Consequently, young people receive comprehensive and well-coordinated services that make a positive difference.””
Ms Allan said: “The IICSA will not investigate whether any of the authorities in Telford should be accountable. That is why we must have an independent inquiry into what happened in Telford; such an inquiry is outside the current scope of the IICSA.
“As Telford’s MP, I will be raising the matter with ministers in Parliament and using every avenue available to ensure that the facts of what happened are made known.”
Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard added: “While local agencies are working better today than they previously did, it is vital that local and vulnerable young adults are protected and the public reassured that all is being done that can be done – and those guilty of criminal offences are given the toughest custodial sentences possible.
“However, there may be a need for some local independent oversight of the council’s ongoing response to these issues to ensure everything that can be done is being done.”
The investigation dubbed Operation Chalice led to the prosecution of seven men and was launched in 2009.
Officers said that they also believed up to 200 men from across the country had been involved in the ring – with a “huge percentage of them” unidentified.
The trial had heard evidence from four women who were between 13 and 16 when they were abused between 2007 and 2009.
The leading figures in the network of abusers were brothers Ahdel and Mubarek Ali, from Regent Street, Wellington.
Both men, who variously sexually abused, raped, and controlled child prostitution involving four of the teenage victims, received lengthy sentences after an eight-week trial. Ahdel Ali received a 26-year extended sentence and Mubarek Ali was given a 22-year sentence.
Also convicted were Mohammed Ali Sultan, 26, of Victoria Avenue, Wellington; Tanveer Ahmed, 40, of Urban Gardens, Wellington; Mohammed Islam Choudhrey, 53, of Solway Drive, Sutton Hill; Mahroof Khan, 35, of Caradoc Flats, Kingshaye Road, Wellington, and Mohammed Younis, 60, of Kingsland, Arleston.
Youth workers first raised the alarm when teenage girls in Wellington, some as young as 13, started telling them the same stories about men they were seeing.
Since the conclusion of the trial concerns have been raised about continuing abuse in Telford, with a police chaplain suspended from duties in 2016 after comments he made about child sexual exploitation.
The Rev Keith Osmund-Smith, who is lead co-ordinator for the Street Pastors in Telford, had said he doubted whether information passed to police officers was always acted upon.
He was placed on sabbatical leave after West Mercia Police launched disciplinary action regarding the matter. He has since returned to work.
In 2016 Mr Osmund-Smith had said a number of reports about child sex exploitation were sent to senior officers. He said: “Because it was going to so many people, no-one was really taking responsibility for it.
“I was never quite sure the things we were reporting were resulting in any serious action.”
He had also raised concerns about the possibility that abuse was still taking place.