West Mercia Police Supt Tom Harding has ‘significantly disputed’ claims that 1,000-plus children and young women may have been groomed over four decades in the Shropshire town
Telford’s police chief said today that the number and scale of girls sexually abused there had been ‘sensationalised’.
West Mercia Police Supt Tom Harding has ‘significantly disputed’ claims that 1,000-plus children may have been groomed over four decades in the Shropshire town.
He said: ‘I don’t believe Telford is any worse than lots of places across England and Wales’.
It came as Theresa May told the Commons has said it is important that an inquiry into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Telford gets under way as quickly as possible.
The Prime Minister said ‘we have all been shocked’ by the ‘horrific’ case, and said she was pleased that an inquiry would happen.
West Mercia Police has said that tackling child sexual exploitation remained its ‘number one priority’ for officers in Telford, whose approach had been ‘subject to independent scrutiny’ from the Home Office last year.
But Mr Harding, Superintendent for Telford and Wrekin, today disputed the scale of abuse.
He told the BBC: ‘I am confident that, in the main, we do know the scale of CSE. Therefore, I significantly dispute the 1,000 plus figure and do feel it is sensationalised.
Becky Watson suffered two years of sex abuse at the hands of a grooming gang, which began when she was 11 and she died in a car incident when she was 13. Vicky Round (right), a friend of Becky’s, was abused by the same gang. She was just 20 when she died of a suspected overdose.
‘Read the headlines, read the reports. What are they actually discussing? They’re discussing cases from 20 or 30 years ago, offending back in the 1990s.
‘We’ve never said there aren’t cases, there are always cases we are working on and seeking to prosecute.’
Lucy Lowe was 16 and pregnant with her second child when she was murdered alongside her sister Sarah, 17, and their mother Eileen, 49, in a house fire in Telford set by Lucy’s boyfriend, Azhar Ali Mehmood
In Telford brutal sex gang targeted the innocent girls over a 40-year period in what may be Britain’s ‘worst ever’ child abuse scandal.
Girls in the town of Telford in Shropshire were drugged, beaten and raped at the hands of the violent groom gang which was active since the 1980s.
Three people were murdered and two others died following incidents linked to the sickening scandal.
Lucy Lowe, 16, died alongside her mother and sister after the man who had been abusing her, 26-year-old Azhar Ali Mehmood, set fire to their house.
The taxi-driver first targeted Lucy in 1997. She gave birth to his child when she was just 14.
Mehmood was jailed for murdering Lucy, her mother Eileen and her sister Sarah, 17.
However, he was never arrested or charged with any sex abuse crimes over his involvement with the young girl.
Becky Watson, 13, was killed after a car she was in crashed. At the time the incident was reported as a ‘prank’.
However, it was revealed she had suffered two years of sex abuse at the hands of a grooming gang, which began when she was 11.
Vicky Round, a friend of Becky’s, was abused by the same gang.
They forced her into a crack cocaine addiction aged 12. By the age of 14 she was taking heroine regularly.
She died aged 20 after a suspected drug overdose.
Azhar Ali Mehmood was later jailed for life after being convicted of three counts of murder – but was never arrested or charged over sex abuse
Mubarek Ali, 34, (left) and his brother Ahdel Ali, 27, (right) from Telford were both jailed after sexually abusing young girls in a child sex abuse ring
A victim of a grooming gang in Telford told yesterday how she endured a ‘whirlwind of rape’ on a daily basis, as police, youth workers and medical staff apparently ignored tell-tale signs of her ordeal.
The woman, calling herself ‘Holly’, suffered four years of abuse as the ring sold her ‘countless times’ for sex.
Holly said she only escaped the cycle of abuse by leaving her home in the Shropshire town – where up to 1,000 children may have been abused over four decades – to live in hiding 40 miles away.
Seven members of the gang were eventually jailed in 2013 after a police investigation.
But detectives said at the time that up to 200 men from across the country had been involved in the ring – with a ‘huge percentage of them’ unidentified.
Telford sex scandal: Timeline of abuse
1980s Girls in Telford are targeted by groups of mainly Asian men
1996 A resident goes to police with information about a key abuser selling underage girls for sex
Late 1990s Social workers learn of the problem but do little to help
2000 Lucy Lowe, 16, is killed alongside her mother and sister in an arson attack by abuser Azhar Ali Mehmood
2002 Abuse victim Becky Watson, 13, is killed in a road accident described as a ‘prank’
2010-2012 Police probe Operation Chalice identifies potential 200 abusers but only nine are jailed
2016 MP Lucy Allan calls for public inquiry but police and council officials in Telford write to Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying this isn’t necessary
March 2018 As many as 1,000 victims are believed to have been abused
According to Home Office figures, Telford, a town of 170,000 people, has the third highest number of child sexual offences recorded in the UK, after Blackpool and Rotherham.
Holly told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I was abused from the ages of 14 to 18. My abuse started with boys my own age, who went on to sell my phone number to older men.
‘And from there it was just a whirlwind of rape every day, basically. I was going into the doctor’s and the youth sexual health clinic to get the morning-after pill, probably twice a week, and nobody even questioned anything.
‘I had two abortions, still nothing was said to me. I was in cars that were stopped by the police and they asked me no questions of why I was there with a much older man…
‘It got to the point where I tried to commit suicide, and still nobody asked me any questions about what was going on in my life and why I was reacting the way I was reacting.’
Holly was interviewed by police during the inquiry, known as Operation Chalice, which resulted in the 2013 prison sentences, but in the end decided she could not face her abusers in court.
She told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire she was taken to a ‘rape house which was set up for the purpose of young girls being sold to men’. But the worst thing that ever happened to her during the cycle of abuse was when she was gang raped after turning 16.
She recalled: ‘After that I tried to commit suicide. I genuinely wanted to die because I thought it was the only way out.’
Holly appeared to make a reference to the August 2000 murder of 16-year-old Lucy Lowe, who died in a house fire set by her 26-year-old boyfriend, and who has now been linked to the grooming epidemic.
‘The only reason I kept going back [to the men] was because they were threatening me with burning my house down, which was a real threat in Telford because it had happened previously,’ Holly said. ‘They would [also] say to me that they would rape my mum and my sisters.’
In a U-turn yesterday, Labour-run Telford and Wrekin Council called on Home Secretary Amber Rudd to commission a public inquiry into cases of child sexual exploitation in the town.
The council, which said it has ‘nothing to hide’ over its handling of cases of grooming and sexual abuse of children in the town, previously insisted that the issue could be examined as part of the national ongoing Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
During PMQs, Tory Telford MP Lucy Allan said: ‘Like many towns and cities across the country, Telford has had some experiences of distressing cases of child sexual exploitation.
‘The authorities in Telford have now agreed to conduct an independent inquiry to find out what happened and to give victims answers’.