Following media coverage of child sex offences in Telford, Telford & Wrekin Council, West Mercia Police and the Telford & Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board have written an open letter to residents.
You may have seen media coverage in recent days about child sex offences in Telford. Some of this has been critical of the way reports of such offences are being recorded and responded to. We would like to take this opportunity to address these reports and reassure you of the importance we place on tackling child sex offences in Telford.
Firstly, we would like to be clear that we are under no illusion that like other areas of the country there are significant concerns around the sexual exploitation of children in Telford. It has happened in the past and it is happening today. These are some of the most abhorrent offences against some of the most vulnerable members of our society and as such we are keen to emphasise our commitment to investigating these crimes and protecting children from harm.
We are all part of the Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board and our role is to ensure that all local agencies are fulfilling their responsibilities to protect children. A recent report from OFSTED into Telford & Wrekin Council's Children's Services found that partners were working well together to tackle the issue. The report found that:
"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."
One of the issues that has been raised in recent media coverage is around how police record and respond to reports of sexual offences against children. We would like to assure people that every single report is appropriately recorded and thoroughly investigated.
Another concern raised is the way reports from street pastors about suspected incidents in Telford are acted upon. The street pastors play a vital role in helping us to keep the streets of Telford safe for everyone. They work on a voluntary basis and we thank them for their continued hard work and commitment.
The pastors have a direct line to the police control room should they wish to report a suspected criminal offence or suspicious activity and we do respond accordingly.
They also provide a more general report of their activity. This information is reviewed and where necessary acted upon. Where it is established that a criminal offence has been committed it is thoroughly investigated as a crime, as our community would expect. Where the information provided is generic in nature or about suspicious activity, this is fed into our intelligence system and the local policing team can target problem areas and individuals.
We have seen successes in tackling child sexual abuse in Telford. We were one of the first areas in the country to secure a large-scale child sexual offence conviction when seven men from the town were sentenced to a total of 49 years in prison as part of Operation Chalice. The police currently have several ongoing operations aimed at targeting identified individuals and making it harder for people intent on committing these crimes from doing so in Telford.
By their nature, investigations into child sex abuse are complex and this is why Telford has a dedicated child sexual exploitation policing team whose sole focus is on protecting children from harm and bringing offenders to justice.
Like any town or city in the country, there are still children being sexually abused in Telford and we will not rest while this continues to be the case. We still face huge challenges; many victims may not realise they are a victim and it is important that we educate these children so they know that what is being done to them is wrong. Others may not be ready to report their ordeal and for these children it is important that they have the confidence that the police will investigate thoroughly, they will be supported and when they are ready to talk there are people who will listen.
We are committed to tackling child sexual abuse but it is important to remember that everyone has a role to play. If you suspect a child is a victim of sexual offences or someone is sexually abusing children then please report it. Even if it is just a suspicion, we will act on every single report.
Superintendent Tom Harding
Local Policing Commander for Telford and Wrekin
Leader, Telford & Wrekin Council
Director of Children's and Adult Services, Telford & Wrekin Council
Chair of Telford & Wrekin Safeguarding Children Board
West Mercia Police asks the public to recognise the signs of child sexual exploitation, which involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity. Young people may be expected to engage in sexual activity in exchange for things such as money, gifts, accommodation, affection, status, food, drugs or alcohol, if something's not right, please report it to police.
The law is clear - no child under the age of 18 can ever consent to being abused or exploited. If you have concerns contact police on 101 for more information.
There are established procedures in place for parents and young people to report concerns relating to child abuse and exploitation. If anyone does have any concerns, they can contact police by calling 101, call Childline on 0800 1111 or report to Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) online.