Monday, 20 June 2011
Child sex grooming in Britain is a “hidden issue” that police, social services and charities are failing properly to investigate, a damning report for ministers has concluded.

More than 2,000 victims identified over the past three years are likely to represent a fraction of the total, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) will say in the first assessment of the extent of grooming, to be published next week.

Despite growing concern among children’s charities, one of the main findings of the inquiry is that “it is not being identified as an issue”, The Times has learnt. There are also fears that the report will provoke a race row over its findings on the ethnicity of perpetrators.

The results of the five-month investigation show that 20 per cent of those identified are of Asian origin. Although it concludes that child grooming cannot be associated with a particular ethnic group, meetings have been held with civil servants from the Department for Education about how to “present” publication in the media.

A key finding of the report, triggered by an investigation in The Times, is the link between children who run away or go missing and are then groomed for exploitation. CEOP reports that there were 2,083 victims, many of whom were aged between 14 and 15, between January 2008 and March this year. More than half of them were girls, with records showing 1,264 female and 182 male.

The information gathered from agencies including police, local councils and childrens charities, is so poorly recorded that the agency was unable to uncover the gender of the remaining victims.

The findings also show that there were 1,217 perpetrators, though not all these individuals were charged with offences. In almost 40 per cent of cases ethnicity was unknown to the authorities, either because it had not been recorded or could not be found.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “The findings are a cause for enormous concern because it appears to be a much larger issue than originally imagined. A great deal of further work needs to be carried out in this crucial area to find out the scale of what is happening across the country.”

Mr Vaz warned against stigmatising whole communities as perpetrators but added: “If indeed it requires upsetting groups or individuals, it just has to be done because we need to get to the bottom of a vital issue in a careful and measured way so we can confirm the extent of the problem and whether there are any particular patterns to it.”

He that said it was vital for all organisations to collaborate effectively in dealing with the subject, whatever their ethnic background. Mr Vaz added thatthe paucity of information on child sex grooming uncovered by CEOP indicated that the figures were “just the tip of an iceberg”.
He praised The Times for a series of reports in January this year, which he said was the only “only reason it was on the agenda”.

The CEOP inquiry was begun after the reports and the conclusion of a trial in which the ringleaders of a gang which subjected a string of vulnerable girls to rapes and sexual assaults were jailed indefinitely.

Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27, were sentenced to a minimum of eight and 11 years respectively at Nottingham Crown Court for raping and sexually abusing their victims, often after giving them alcohol or drugs. They were the prime movers in a group of men who befriended girls aged 12 to 18 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.

Peter Davies, chief executive of CEOP, ordered the report into the extent of “on-street” grooming. He subsequently changed the term to “localised grooming” to ensure that it investigated incidents taking place on premises such as cafés.

The inquiry sought information from police forces througout the UK as well as social service departments, health authorities and charities. It has found that local child safeguarding boards which bring together police, education and social welfare service to help to protect children are failing to implement guidance recognising the importance of sexual exploitation.

The CEOP enquiry was set up to establish whether it was possible to identify patterns of offending, victimisation and vulnerability of people involved in grooming children for sexual abuse.

The Home Office will be disappointed that CEOP’s findings, which indicate that much of the evidence is patchy, will not provide the better information it had hoped would lead to greater knowledge about the nature and scale of the problem.

Source: The Times (£)

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