The victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSE) in Telford have received an apology from both Telford and Wrekin Council and West Mercia Police (WMP).
This comes after an Independent Inquiry report was published on the matter. The inquiry found that up to 1,000 children, as young as 11, were beaten, gang-raped, held at gun-point, sold for sex, and trafficked. Some were raped by ‘hundreds’ of men.
The Inquiry’s report details the case of Lucy Lowe, who died at 16 when her house was set on fire by Azhar Ali Mehmood, a taxi driver ten years her senior. Lucy was 14 when she gave birth to Mehmood’s child. Unfortunately, Lucy’s mother and sister also died in the fire. Mehmood was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 18 years after being convicted of three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in 2001. This is just one harrowing example. Other reports describe abuse in nightclubs, takeaways, and a house named ‘rape house’. A recurring theme among victims and survivors is that, when they were children, adult men gained their trust before treating them as sexual objects or commodities.
The Effects of Child Sexual Exploitation
The suffering of victims and survivors does not end with the CSE itself, but is long-term: lives affected by CSE are ‘changed irreversibly’. CSE can be destructive to friendships, romantic relationships, and family life. Furthermore, it can mar both education and employment.
One affected individual stated: ‘My social life is non-existent as I don’t make friends easily due to not trusting anyone because of what this man has done to me, and the way he has made me look at people and life.’ Another shared that they had felt unable to bond with their own children for multiple years. The report looked at evidence form 170 witnesses in total.
Failures by Telford and Wrekin Council and West Mercia Police
In 2018, a Sunday Mirror investigation, led by Geraldine McKelvie, concluded that approximately 1,000 children were sexually exploited in Shropshire over the previous 40 years. The independent inquiry, commissioned later that year by Telford and Wrekin Council, has called the assessment made by the Sunday Mirror ‘entirely measured … and non-sensational.’ The Inquiry focused on abuse from 1989 onwards, but discovered that allegations of abuse in the area date back to the 1970s, with key agencies ignoring sexual exploitation.
Tom Crowther QC, who chaired the inquiry, has explained that unnecessary suffering and deaths of children could have been avoided had WMP ‘done its most basic job.’ Obvious CSE was ignored and professionals were discouraged from reporting CSE, with agencies blaming children’s ‘wrong lifestyle choices’ for their exploitation.
Testimonies reveal that police, youth workers, and teachers were expressing concerns about children repeatedly going missing throughout the 1990s, with no investigations being carried out. This was perpetuated when victims and survivors sought help, but were told that the police could not help them. The inquiry found that multi-agency information sharing was ‘insufficient’ and ‘ineffective’. Unfortunately, these findings echo those of recent inquiries covering Oldham, Rochdale, and Rotherham.
Telford Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Convictions
The first break into the Shropshire’s child exploitation ring occurred in 2013, when seven men were convicted of sexual offences against four girls aged 13 to 16, over a series of trials which spanned across two years. The seven men, who plead guilty and were sentenced to a combined total of almost 50 years in prison, were Ahdel Ali, Mubarek Ali, Tanveer Ahmed, Mohammed Choudhrey, Mahroof Khan, Mohammed Ali Sultan, and Mohammed Younis. The offences included child prostitution, rape, and trafficking. Some have now been released. Although CSE levels in Telford were the highest in the country throughout 2014 and 2015, with the Home Office reporting 250 logged crimes, both WMP and the council scaled down their specialist CSE teams in order to save money.
The Assistant Chief Constable Richard Cooper apologised on behalf of WMP, stating that their ‘actions fell short of the help and protection you should have had from us; it was unacceptable, we let you down.’ WMP admitted that they did not have enough trained officers to deal with the amount of abuse reported, and have now implemented dedicated teams to work on child exploitation. These include an Online Child Sexual Exploitation Team (Ocset), which is targeting offenders online. The teams aim to work with other agencies to safeguard at-risk children.
Findings and Recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Telford
Key findings include:
Agency communication was concerning;
Councils should ensure safe taxi operation;
Health training around sexual exploitation is ineffective and needs improving;
The council was reluctant to engage with agencies;
WMP should have implemented specialist CSE teams quicker.
Key recommendations include:
The formation of a ‘Joint CSE Review Group’;
Regular information training programmes should be implemented to better navigate data sharing and confidentiality;
Agencies should implement protocols to support immediate action;
Agencies should determine wherever complaints relate to a known HIV positive perpetrator;
Training should be engaging and testing in application;
Third-sector expertise should be used to address sexual abuse and exploitation;
Telford Council should hold Telford taxis to a high standard, publicise this, and raise awareness of how to recognise a locally licensed taxi;
The number of complaints received through taxi drivers should be published, along with the nature of the complaints and their results;
There should have been a WMP CSE Team earlier;
WMP should commit to preserving its CSE budget, staff numbers, and workload;
There should be appropriate and consistent use of a new data collection system.
WMP have commented that they will ‘take time to reflect critically and carefully on the context of the report and the recommendations that have been made.’ Whilst the investigation found no corruption, and improvements have been implemented, they are still looking to improve their approach towards preventing and tackling CSE. Telford and Wrekin Council have apologised for the pain caused to victims and survivors and have noted that they have been implementing improvement over recent years.
We at Farleys Solicitors continue to bring claims against local authorities for their failings, securing many millions of pounds in damages for victims every year. If you would like to discuss the possibility of bringing a claim against a local authority for social services failings, you can contact our dedicated abuse line in confidence on 0330 134 6430, or get in touch by email, or through the online chat below.