The BBC today report on the newest child sexual exploitation scandal to hit the headlines. Following in the tracks of Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford and others we now learn that a gang of predominantly Asian males have sexually exploited young girls in the Newcastle area for a number of years.

We have become so used to vulnerable girls and women in our society being abused in this manner that the press emphasis in reporting this story is not the horrendous damage done to the victims but the fact that Northumbria Police saw fit to pay an informant £10,000 to assist in their enquiries.

Quite rightly, the actions of the Police are being scrutinised. Is it morally justifiable to pay a convicted child rapist £10,000 for information leading to the conviction of other paedophiles? I would tend to agree with the views expressed by the NSPCC who say that this decision “crossed the line”. I would also question how any reasonable and competent Police force would not have been able to convict these men without the informant’s assistance. From my extensive experience in acting for victims of child sex abuse, the perpetrators are not particularly secretive about their actions. They do not see the abuse of young girls as a crime. I act for victims from Northumbria who were picked up from children’s homes by the abusers in full view of staff. The respected Times journalist, Andrew Norfolk, spoke last night on Radio 4 about missed opportunities by Northumbria Police including one occasion where three young girls, clearly under the influence of drink/drugs, were forced into a car by a known paedophile and later found at his home yet steps were not taken at that point to disrupt the gang.

Whilst blame is therefore being attached to Northumbria Police for paying £10,000 to this informant I do wonder whether we are missing the bigger picture and whether we should again be looking at whether steps could have been taken by the Police at a much earlier stage to safeguard these vulnerable girls. I welcome the news that a Serious Case Review is to be carried out.

The emphasis on the payment to the informant also deflects from the 17 men and one woman convicted for abusing these girls in Newcastle. Ultimate blame has to rest with them and it is hoped that significant prison sentences will be handed down to reflect the appalling crimes that they have committed.

From my own experience of acting for victims of sex abuse in Northumbria, Social Services are also likely to come under scrutiny. I recently settled a claim for £100,000 against Northumbria Social Services for a victim who at one point was described by police as “the youngest prostitute in the North East”. She was in the care of the Local Council. She was being exploited by the same types of men as were convicted yesterday of abusing girls in Newcastle. She was spending time living on the streets. She was abusing drink and drugs. She in turn was being abused by gangs of men. She was 13 years of age and in the care of the Local Council. The £100,000 compensation payment that I secured for her will not make up for her early life experiences but will help pay for much needed treatment and give her some stability as she now tries to cope with the psychological consequences of what she has been through. Another victim has recently contacted me and we will put forward a similar claim on her behalf against the Local Council. She has delayed bringing a claim until the successful conviction of her abusers. She tells a similar story of Social Services turning a blind eye to her abuse by Asian males. Again she tells of the abusers having free access to her whilst living in a children’s home even to the extent of one of the abusers coming into the home to meet her with the knowledge of staff.

Whilst the press emphasis at present is therefore on the Police actions in paying an informant who was himself a paedophile this should not allow the focus to shift from establishing who was actually to blame here. First and foremost the perpetrators but secondly the Police and those caring for the vulnerable victims and it has to be hoped that as with Rotherham and to a lesser extent Rochdale a Serious Case Review and possible Public Inquiry will result in failings being exposed and lessons learned.

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