I’ve been reading the report of the Independent Inquiry into Telford Child Sexual Exploitation
Chaired by Tom Crowther QC, published July 2022
It seems apposite, in the context of the ‘Mermaids’ scandal, trans-rights ideology, and the increasing sexualisation and grooming of children for the purposes of adult predators (apparently approved of and encouraged by public officials, teachers, NGOs and luvvies) to set out yet another example of the failure of the UK’s institutions to protect children.
The Telford report is persuasive and well written, but is very long and dense. It runs to 4 volumes.
I can’t claim to have digested all of it, and can only present my own version of what, to me, are the most important, and shocking, facts.
The Inquiry was set up in 2018 after a diligent investigation by two Sunday Mirror reporters, claiming that up to 1000 girls had been abused by gangs in Telford since the 1980s. It was a non-statutory Inquiry, meaning that witnesses could not be compelled to take part.
I have concentrated on the report’s evidence about the actions of the Council, over a 30-year period, rather than equally important comments about other stakeholders such as the Police.
From the foreword :
‘Generally it has been difficult for this Inquiry to confirm by way of any tangible data the scale of Child Sexual Exploitation within Telford historically. This is due to a lack of understanding around this type of criminality in the 1980s and 90s. The attitude towards ‘child prostitution’ at that time and the fact that many children were ‘borderline’ in terms of their proximity to the age of consent..lead to a subjective view being taken by the professionals, across the board, as to whether or not the child was consensually ‘engaging’ in such activity rather than being subjected to it under a form of grooming, coercion, or duress’
The view was that these were badly behaved girls operating on the margins of society.
On their website, Leigh Day Solicitors (who have expertise in child abuse) commented
‘Home Office statistics showed that Telford had the highest rate of recorded child sex crimes, with 15.1 crimes reported per 10,000 residents between September 2014 and September 2015..’
‘children cannot be expected to protect themselves from coercion, manipulation, and deception by adult perpetrators, and it is the adults around the child who must be responsible for keeping them safe’<
‘one of the perhaps most difficult conclusions from the Telford Inquiry is that the response to exploitation was significantly hindered by issues of race. There was a nervousness about race that led to a reluctance to investigate crimes committed by men of South Asian heritage. This was wrong: concerns about racism and being seen as racist were allowed to take precedence over the protection of vulnerable children, whose wellbeing should have been paramount’
Key Findings of the Inquiry include :
- teachers , social workers, and other Council staff such as Youth Workers, were discouraged from reporting abuse
- offenders were emboldened by the absence of police action
- exploitation was not investigated because of nervousness about race and that investigating concerns about Asian men in particular would inflame racial tensions
- even after an investigation leading to 7 men * being jailed for child sex crimes in 2012, ‘Operation
Chalice’ , West Mercia Police and Telford and Wrekin Council scaled down their specialist teams to virtual zero in order to save money
(* including Mohammed Islam Choudhrey, 54; Mohammed Younis, 61, Tanveer Ahmed, 40 )
- those responsible for the abuse did not use contraception and “pregnancies were expected to be and in many cases were terminated”
- in several cases victims received death threats against them and their families. One
victim and her family were murdered.
It will be immediately apparent that these are now, sadly, familiar themes – Rochdale, Rotherham, Oldham, Oxford….
So here we are, again.
The report describes the all too familiar modus operandii of the grooming gangs: first ‘befriend’ the victims and give them presents, persuade the girls into believing that their ‘boyfriend’ loves them and that sexual intercourse was a sign of this ‘love’; then introduce drugs and alcohol rendering the victims confused and unable to withstand being passed around and repeatedly threatened and raped; move the victims around at night by driving them to other towns, to be raped by more men; threaten to abandon the girls in unknown , often isolated, places.
The modus operandii is always the same. The perpetrators – operating collectively, and across a wide geographical area – worked in or had connections to fast-food takeaways and taxi services.
The Introduction notes that the terms of the Inquiry were very wide, going back many years (from 1989 in fact), reviewing wide ranging aspects of CSE and the responses of various organisations, including the local Council, Police, Health, Education and other relevant bodies.
The inquiry team requested, and scrutinised, huge volumes of written material.
It is evident that the Chair and his team were not afraid of unravelling and exploring the bureaucratic structures which are often dense, and which are characteristic of local government and other related organisations. The Chair explains that generally, he did not seek to apportion blame, but ‘where I consider it necessary and fair to criticize the actions of individuals which have occurred primarily where an individual is in a senior position of responsibility, I have not shied away from doing this..’
Tribute to Victims
The Chair’s Introduction is personal and humane:
‘I know that when (an abused child) is in their 70s they will not have forgotten the abuse – I know that sexual abuse of children marks lives’…
‘it is important at the outset that I pay tribute to all those victims and survivors whose experiences have informed the work of this Inquiry…. I do not underestimate the difficulty of simply telling someone about an experience of childhood sexual exploitation or the bravery of those who have done so…’
A lack of Focus on Older Child Victims
The Report also covers the ‘national landscape’ as regards child protection and outlines the many Acts of Parliament and statutory policies implemented since 1989, and refers to public inquiries following child abuse failures such as that of Victoria Climbie and ‘Baby P’. It acknowledges that these failures could have encouraged social workers, Police, and the authorities generally, to focus their efforts on preventing the abuse and neglect of very young children, a focus which might have diverted them from recognising that older children and in particular older girls could be at risk too. Certainly, in my experience as a social work practitioner and lecturer, the fact that older children could be at risk of sexual abuse was not given much attention by the authorities and in social work textbooks, in the 1990s and well into 2000.
During this time, social work textbooks and qualifying courses were increasingly pre-occupied with anti-racism.
In Telford – and generally, I’d argue -teenage pregnancy and children having babies was not seen as a safeguarding issue but one of sexual health. Girls were seen as ‘out of control’ and social workers focussed on trying to change victim behaviour, suggesting ‘the child was responsible for their own safety and by implication responsible for their exploitation ‘ (the Report quoting from a social worker’s notes)
Council’s Organisational Incompetence:
The Inquiry undertook a forensic investigation of the Council and its employees. It obtained a total of 187,103 documents/1,165,098 pages of material. But it found that important Minutes and records were lost.
‘I have not been provided with a full suite of Minutes for the groups, committees, or boards that held responsibility for the Council’s response to CSE…. It calls into question the appropriateness and robustness of the Council’s document management and retention process. I have been surprised that the Council… was unable to provide a full suite of Minutes even for some of the most recent groups which are still in existence…’
This is a terrible organisational failure. The Report reminds us that the welfare of children is paramount, and that elected Councillors have a corporate parent responsibility. Historically, in Telford, ‘the nature and scope of CSE was not regarded sufficiently seriously by the majority of Councillors’ despite the growing evidence.
Safeguarding Teams’ Failures
The Report provides plenty of evidence that over a long period of time, the social work team/s set up to deal with child protection – especially the ‘elite’ Safeguarding team – ‘quite simply failed to recognise that CSE was a child protection issue.’ The Safeguarding team had a ‘silo mentality’ and did not like accepting expressions of concern, or referrals, from non-social work individuals and even educators.
‘Clusters’ – locality multidisciplinary teams – set up in 2004, did not have social workers until 2010, nevertheless, they shared their concern about grooming and tried referring to Safeguarding. ‘Cluster staff were told that Exploitation was not the business of Safeguarding and that detailed reports should not be shared by email as the allegations ‘could start a race riot.’’
In the Section on Education, the Report notes the growing awareness – from 2000 onwards – by school staff that teenage girls in a couple of local schools were regularly being collected by ‘older Asian men in cars’. The perpetrators would even enter school grounds. A school staff member tried to raise the issue with Council employees, only to be accused of being racist. Teachers reported their concerns to the social work Safeguarding team, but no action was taken.
In 2010, a new resource became available for use in schools, warning girls about the dangers of grooming. A DVD entitled ‘My dangerous loverboy’ was a narrative about a child who was targetted groomed and abused. There were linked resource packs for teachers and parents. In 2011, plans were made to use these in schools. But the Council Chief Executive – who was also holding the post of Director of Children’s Services – vetoed the project. He walked out when the DVD was first shown, saying it was too graphic.
(I have not seen this video, so can’t form an opinion on its usefulness. However, the response of the Chief Executive leaves me speechless.)
Council’s Lack of Communication and Leadership
Regards the Council, I have selected some important – yet all too familiar – concerns highlighted by the Inquiry:
- a plethora of groups all having some vague responsibility for CSE but not communicating with one another or sharing vital information, having insufficient clarity as to their roles and purpose, and being confused about whether they had a strategic or operational function
- the Council had no overall strategy for funding these groups, and over time instigated frequent re-organisations, with new ‘pathways’ ‘projects’ ‘ initiatives’ – the acronyms are mind boggling – contributing to a lack of leadership regards CSE, a constant ‘churn’ of staff, and ‘bureaucratic paralysis’
- the Council for many years operated a culture of defensiveness and denial, perhaps not wanting to tarnish its reputation. Its sloppy approach to taking and keeping Minutes of important meetings re CSE has already been pointed out.
- Data bases and IT systems were not co-ordinated – those used by the Youth Service, for example, could not be accessed and shared by Safeguarding.
I am saddened by the negative but no doubt accurate description of the attitudes and behaviour of the one social work team – Safeguarding – which should have taken responsibility, shown leadership, supported colleagues making referrals, and behaved pro-actively. Instead, it was reactive and self-protective. For many years, there was no understanding of the importance of girls ‘going missing’, for example, – which research had already shown is a key indicator of CSE.
‘Case studies show that where Safeguarding was involved, children were often treated as if they had full agency: the approach was ‘victim blaming’ with a focus on the childrens’ behaviour rather than the actions of the perpetrators. The support provided by the Safeguarding team was reactive and erratic with continual drift and delay’ and the team ‘hid behind protection of information , with a well embedded culture of confidentiality…’
I am sure these problems were/are not confined to Telford Council and its child protection social workers. Whilst not working directly in that specialism myself, I have observed many similar occurrences in the local authorities I have worked for . I’ve noted the dense bureaucratic structures , the institutional drift and delay, and the confusion about strategic and operational responsibilities. The all too frequent re-organisations and the plethora of different groups covering similar issues. The lack of leadership. The ignorance about government policies and guidelines, and the lack of interest in research findings. The ‘silo’ mentality of different teams, and the introduction of costly IT systems which were not fit for purpose. The endless acronyms. The failure of Council ‘help desks’ to be really helpful.
Some local authorities perform very well. I’d like to defend local Councils, for they are a key plank in local democracy and are, theoretically if not always practically, open to public influence, as well as directives from national government. But when they fail, they seem to do so dramatically, badly affecting the lives of their most vulnerable citizens. And again, social work has failed too.