Telford & Wrekin Council has agreed to commission an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation within the borough.
It is currently procuring an independent commissioning body as a first stage of the process.
We anticipate the commissioning body will be appointed in September 2018.
Why has Telford & Wrekin Council commissioned an independent inquiry in to child sexual exploitation?
The council has unanimously agreed to commission its own independent inquiry in to child sexual exploitation in light of non-recent cases highlighted by some media. This is what victims are asking for.
This will be decided by whoever chairs the independent inquiry. In April 2018 an advisory group made up of elected members from different political parties was established. They will appoint an independent commissioning body who will, on the council’s behalf, prepare the outlines of the inquiry process and appoint an independent inquiry chair.
The independent chair will consider when the inquiry will begin and how long it is likely to take.
Yes, the cross party advisory group agreed that it would include four members who will specifically represent survivors of child sexual exploitation.
The council has always said an inquiry is needed. The council’s preference was for this to be through the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). This has the statutory powers to compel organisations and individuals to give evidence and has most powers to get to the answers that survivors and their families seek.
IICSA has always said that its investigation into sexual abuse of children by organised networks will cover Telford, while in the summer of 2018 the Inquiry’s Truth Project was in Telford to hear from victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation.
However, following some of the reports in the media this spring of non-recent cases in Telford, the council unanimously agreed to commission its own independent inquiry.
Nevertheless people should be aware that a council commissioned independent inquiry has more limited powers. For example it can only compel council employees to give evidence. As such a council commissioned independent may not be able to provide all the answers people seek.
A council commissioned inquiry will have some limitations compared with a statutory inquiry such as IICSA, and it is important that people are aware of these from the outset.
- Many of the issues raised in media coverage has focused on failings by ‘Telford authorities’ – in many cases the issues referred to are not council services.
- A council commissioned inquiry cannot compel witnesses outside of the council or former council employees to give evidence.
- If the review goes back further than 1998 witnesses will come from Shropshire Council and documentation will have to be provided by Shropshire Council as they hold records from Shropshire Council who were responsible for these services before 1998.
- Victims will previously have given evidence to other inquiries as well. The IICSA Truth Project has already gathered testimony from victims, survivors and their families in Telford. IICSA has covered Telford as part of its investigation into the sexual exploitation of children by organised networks.
- IICSA will not share the testimony given to them as part of the Truth Project with the council commissioned inquiry. So victims may need to give evidence again.
The council has taken a number of positive steps to provide assurance around its services and practices to help prevent child sexual exploitation.
- In 2012 it commissioned an independent ‘lessons learned’ review by NewStart Networks. This included interviewing victims and survivors as well as people working in a number of other organisations and agencies. Download the Child Abuse through Sexual
Exploitation (CATSE) Learning (2008-2013) report was published in October 2013.
- In November 2014 the council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Committee began a review of multi-agency working against child sexual exploitation. This was published in May 2016 and made 38 recommendations which were all accepted and have been delivered.
- In 2016 a team of seven OFSTED inspectors looked at the council’s safeguarding services for four weeks. They concluded the council’s work on child sexual exploitation was ‘strong’ and said: "the local authority has been a champion for tackling this issue".
In March 2018 the council asked the Home Office to begin an independent expert inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford.
In April 2018, the Home Office’s Deputy Director, Safeguarding Unit, responded saying that IICSA already has 13 ongoing separate investigations, including one which is looking at institutional response to the sexual exploitation of children by organised networks. The Deputy Director confirmed this inquiry will cover Telford.
The Home Office said it was not appropriate to establish a second statutory inquiry to look at issues which are already well within the scope of the existing national inquiry (IICSA).
They stated "it is now for the inquiry to decide how it takes forward this investigation without interference from government".
Not at all. We have never sought to hide from this important issue and we welcome scrutiny. That is why we commissioned an independent review in 2012 by NewStart and why we commissioned a further review in to our Children Abused through Exploitation (CATE) team and children’s safeguarding by our scrutiny commission in 2016.
In 2016 our services were inspected by OFSTED who concluded our work on child sexual exploitation was ‘strong’ and said: ‘the local authority has been a champion for tackling this issue’.
In 2012, West Mercia Police’s Operation Chalice investigation into an organised grooming gang in Telford and Wrekin resulted in the conviction of seven men, who were jailed for a total of 49 years.
This case was one of the very first in the UK to prosecute perpetrators child sexual exploitation and preceded a number of similar cases notably in Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford.
We accept and regret that mistakes have been made and practices right across the country were not as effective as they could have been in the past. However this is the same right across the country, partly because awareness of child sexual exploitation was different to how it is now. In fact some incidents referred to in recent media reports pre-date the existence of Telford & Wrekin Council.
Many of the issues raised in the media reflect on partner, as well as some council services, and we feel these would have been better answered by an inquiry that is not council commissioned.
Every council, police force and other partners across the country must continue to work even harder to tackle this vile and evil crime.
Tackling child sexual exploitation is everyone’s business. If you are concerned a child is a victim of sexual offences or is being sexually abused you must report this, even if it is just a suspicion. This council will act on every report we receive and we continue to support survivors of child sexual exploitation. If anyone has any concerns, they should contact the police in the first instance by calling 101, or make a report to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) online or visit the Tell Someone website.