UK

Police 'investigating 54 child grooming gangs'

Girl with head in hands
Image caption The discussion in the Lords followed a spate of recent court convictions

Police are investigating 54 alleged gangs in a crackdown on child grooming in England and Wales, peers have heard.

The figure was cited by former Labour Attorney General Lord Morris of Aberavon at question time in the Lords.

He said inquiries involved 27 police forces as he urged greater co-operation between agencies after the convictions of a sex abuse ring in the Oxford area.

Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said the problem was a focus for the government.

Seven men are awaiting sentencing at the Old Bailey for their roles in the Oxford case which followed trials dealing with similar gangs in Telford and Rochdale last year, and in Derby in November 2010.

While those cases involved mainly defendants of British Pakistani origin and white British female victims, a report from the Children's Commissioner for England has stated that abusers "come from all ethnic groups and so do their victims".

Raising the spate of recent convictions, Lord Morris said: "Is it collective amnesia that has blinded us to the underlying circumstances, whereby at least 27 police forces are investigating 54 alleged child grooming gangs?

"Why has investigating and prosecuting in so many different parts of the country taken so much time?

"Is it the fear of racialism, or is it the fact that many of these vulnerable girls come from care homes?"

'Horrendous cases'

Lord Taylor said there had been a "failure to recognise the reality that many of these young people have experienced".

He said: "The government is determined the system should work, the system needs to work, to protect these vulnerable children."

He said safeguarding children boards were working in local authorities and police must "lend a positive ear" to complaints from children.

"This has been perhaps the point of failure in the system that these allegations have not been listened to or taken seriously by the authorities in the past," he said.

Lord Taylor said inquiries into how the Crown Prosecution Service and police handled past investigations were also taking place.

"We expect that all agencies learn lessons from the horrendous cases we have seen recently," he said.

Lord Taylor said 2,409 children and young people had been confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation by gangs or groups between August 2010 and October 2011.

"Those figures speak for themselves the scale of what has to be dealt with," he said.

Former deputy high court judge and independent crossbencher Lord Elystan-Morgan suggested law enforcement agencies should be "prepared to adopt more robust tactics, including infiltration and surveillance".

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