Tom Crowther QC, who has been in charge of the inquiry since he was appointed in 2019, has also issued a plea for any potential witnesses who have not been in contact to come forward as soon as possible.
A progress update on the inquiry - which was ordered in 2018 after reports that up to 1,000 children could have been abused or exploited in the town - has confirmed that the number of witnesses has increased from 145 in January, to 168.
The inquiry says that of the 168, a total of 103 have now given evidence as part of the investigation. Mr Crowther’s update urged anyone wanting to give their evidence to contact the inquiry as soon as possible.
“There are further interviews arranged for the coming weeks and witnesses who the inquiry has yet to hear from are being followed up and encouraged to give evidence, as appropriate," said the update.
“However, as the chair approaches the latter stages of the evidence gathering phase of his investigations, there will soon become a point at which the inquiry cannot accept any further witness evidence. Therefore, the chair is encouraging anyone with relevant evidence to come forward as soon as possible.”
It has also been confirmed that the former deputy director of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Andy Baker, has been appointed as a police expert to the inquiry. He previously led the team that reviewed South Yorkshire Police’s handling of grooming cases in Rotherham.
According to the update, the inquiry has now heard evidence from 27 survivors, victims, or family, friends and supporters of survivors and victims.
There has also been evidence from 31 council, or former council witnesses, 24 police, or former police witnesses, and 21 stakeholders.
The latest progress report says the inquiry team has received "overarching statements requested from key stakeholders, including Telford & Wrekin Council", and that in "a number of instances further information has, or is, being requested".
The update, one of a series that have been issued online by the inquiry, also outlines plans from Mr Crowther to provide the next progress report in person, in Telford.
It states: "As the Government Covid-19 restrictions in England begin to lift, it is hoped that the chair may be able to deliver the next progress report in person in Telford, at a suitable venue where arrangements can be made to ensure the health and safety of all in attendance."
Mr Baker, who later served as Chief Operation Officer for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Unit, joins social work expert Jane Wiffin, who was appointed to assist the Independent Inquiry into Telford Child Sexual Exploitation in the winter.
The update says Mr Baker “was a career detective in the Metropolitan Police Service where he attained the rank of commander”, adding that this equates to assistant chief constable status on other forces.
“In the MPS, Andy investigated all types of crimes including offences against children,” it adds.
“He was a member of the command team in the Serious Crime Directorate which oversaw all child protection units across London and he was a detective inspector on the Bexley Project, which focussed on intra-familial child sexual abuse and child sexual abuse generally.”
After his work with the Metropolitan Police, Mr Baker became Serious Organised Crime Agency deputy director and served as chief operating officer for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Unit and the National Child Protection Unit, overseeing all its investigations.
A progress report published by the inquiry in January said Ms Wiffin, a freelance consultant, would assist Mr Crowther “in examining whether social work practices, approach and structures reflected published guidance and contemporary practice relevant at the time”.
Any victims or witnesses who wish to get in touch with the inquiry team can find out more information at iitcse.com or call 0800 3894322.