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Telford child sexual exploitation: New abuse ‘could not go undetected’ today

By Mark Andrews | Telford | Crime | Published:

A child sex abuse gang on the scale of the one exposed by the undercover police Operation Chalice could not go undetected in Telford today, the town’s top police officer has said.

Telford Superintendant Tom Harding

Speaking to the Shropshire Star, Superintendent Tom Harding also accused a national newspaper of sensationalising the matter after it claimed that 1,000 children may have been abused.

Mr Harding said he had no idea where that figure had come from, and said Telford was no different from any other town.

And he warned sex offenders who had committed crimes in the past and thought they had got away with their crimes that police would never give up in their quest to bring them to justice.

More coverage on the Telford abuse scandal

Mr Harding was responding to claims in the Sunday Mirror this week that as many as 1,000 children may have been exploited by sexual grooming gangs in the town, likening the situation to the scandals that had taken place in Rochdale and Rotherham.

The newspaper claimed that some of the cases went as far back as 40 years, but Mr Harding said he had no idea how they could come to such a figure.

“Child sexual exploitation wasn’t even a defined category 40 years ago, so I have no idea how they have come to that figure.”

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He added: “I don’t believe Telford has a discernible problem compared to other towns. Child sexual exploitation will be taking place all over the country and Telford is not different to anywhere else.

“Something on the scale of what was revealed by Operation Chalice wouldn’t be able to happen today without it being picked up.”

Mr Harding said the police now had officers who worked closely with the local authority to ensure the victims received support.

He said the team of six dedicated officers, headed by Det Sgt Jo Woods, worked closely with Telford & Wrekin Council to protect youngsters who might be vulnerable to such crimes.

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“Together with the local authority we are working with 46 young people at the moment, who we understand to be vulnerable to such crime,” he said. Det Sgt Woods said the council workers regularly met with the youngsters, and if there were any concerns they would be reported to the police team.

Mr Harding said it was important that the police worked with other organisations as many young people did not feel confident in talking to police officers.

Telford and Wrekin Council

Clive Jones, director of children’s services at Telford & Wrekin Council, said one of the great advances made in tackling the problem was the way that people who come into regular contact with young people were now trained to be the eyes and ears of the authorities.

“We work with hotel staff, with taxi drivers, with door staff, we make sure these people are trained with regard to child sexual exploitation,” he said.

“I think it was a problem in Telford, but I don’t think it is a big problem now.

“We have a small number of problems, but I don’t think it is on anything like the scale it was a few years ago.”

Mr Harding added: “Child sexual exploitation is one of the most abhorrent crimes we deal with. I welcome debate, education, understanding. I don’t welcome guesses and unhelpful headlines about Telford.

“It is a national issue but one locally we are doing everything we can to tackle.”

He urged anyone who had been a victim of sex crimes in the past, or who suspected they were taking place, to contact police – to whom they could speak to in guaranteed confidence – or by calling Crimestoppers anonymously if they preferred.

Alternatively, the council has a dedicated number 01952 385385.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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