Calls for urgent Telford & Wrekin Council meeting over CSE

Calls have been made for an urgent meeting to demand that Telford & Wrekin Council leads a dedicated independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the borough.

Opposition Conservative group leader Andrew Eade has requested an extraordinary full council meeting to call on the Labour-run authority to fund 'an immediate local independent Inquiry into all aspects of historical and current instances of child sexual exploitation within the borough of Telford and Wrekin'.

He has tabled a motion, seconded by Conservative Councillor Nigel Dugmore, which asks for an inquiry to take place as soon as possible and for a cross-party working group to be appointed immediately.

The council has called for any inquiry to be commissioned by the government, saying it would be given wider scope and also be seen as free of any potential vested interests.

The authority says it is awaiting an official response from the Home Office, but a spokesman from the government department previously announced that the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) would look at failings by institutions in towns and cities across the country, including Telford.

An inquiry into the child sexual exploitation (CSE) scandal in Rotherham was commissioned by the local council and not the government.

Councillors Eade and Dugmore believe a similar inquiry is needed in Telford.

Making a joint statement, they said: “We first called for an independent inquiry at a full council meeting in September 2016.

"This was followed by a letter to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, during early October 2016, in which we repeated this call.

“We also expressed our concern at the authority’s flawed intention to await the Alexis Jay inquiry and refused point blank to sign a letter from Telford & Wrekin Council to the Home Secretary which suggested that option.

“The IICSA has made it explicitly clear that it is a matter for Telford & Wrekin Council to decide on whether it wishes to undertake an independent inquiry.

“We believe that a local inquiry is essential to root out CSE issues specific to Telford and that the resulting 15 month delay in getting an investigation underway has not helped past, present, or future victims in any way and only added to their distress."

Conservative Councillor Nicola Lowery, who represents the Ironbridge Gorge ward, is backing the call for an extraordinary meeting and says she believes CSE is still a problem in Telford.

She said: "I feel that the council commissioned inquiry would enable the council to set the terms of reference and they would then independently appoint a chair or judge to commission that inquiry, lead that inquiry.

"The government has been very clear from the beginning, as has the national Jay inquiry, if councils feel there is evidence or suspicion still of CSE taking place in their local areas that they should lead on this and they should be the ones to make sure that victims have their voices heard.

"We feel it is absolutely necessary to make sure this inquiry proceeds at the earliest opportunity."

Siobhan Crawford, associate solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp, also believes there needs to be an inquiry.

However, she said it should not "piggyback on the national inquiry" because it could lead to survivors having to wait years for answers.

Telford & Wrekin Council does not believe a council-led inquiry would give the victims, or public, the answers they seek.

The authority says it cannot compel witnesses outside of the council to give evidence and its remit would be limited to the period since the council has existed.

However, the council said it "will of course happily discuss the motion and any type of inquiry at a council meeting and are looking into when this can be arranged".

The national spotlight has fallen on Telford over the issue after a report published in the Sunday Mirror claimed there could have been as many as 1,000 victims of the offence over the past 40 years.

Telford police Superintendent Tom Harding has described the story as sensationalised, and said he had no idea where the numbers had come from.

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 ring.

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.

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