Review into Oxford child sex abuse reveals a catalogue of failures by police and social services

The victims were not treated as sensitively as they should have been, and were not taken seriously. Credit: ITV News

This serious case review outlines how outdated views, judgmental attitudes and poor management allowed the young lives of six girls to be ruined by a gang of criminals.

It concludes that not much more was known in 2011 when action was finally taken to save them, than had been known in 2005 when nothing was done.

It says that when the investigation began there were 20 suspected victims and that now more than 370 children have been identified as at risk of exploitation.

Missed opportunities

What becomes immediately clear reading the review is how well known the girls were well known to the police and social services.

There were frequent meetings, police had 1,561 recorded contacts with the families during this review period and there were 450 reports of “missing” on the 6 children from their distraught parents or from their children's homes.

This is abuse that happened in plain site of the professionals, but no one saw the bigger picture or “joined the dots”.

Even when a 14 year old was admitted to A&E with alcohol poisoning and told the staff of her rape ordeal, signs were not picked up by others who were also hearing and seeing evidence of similar abuse; school nurses, police constables, social workers and drug counselors.

As early as 2005 a police constable recorded that he thought there was a peadophile ring in operation. But no one escalated his concerns either.

Villains not victims

Again and again the report catalogues how the staff concentrated on judging the abused and not the abusers.

Those who dealt with the girls often referred to them as “willful” and “street wise” and failed to see them as children and victims. One school records refer to one child as “prostituting herself". They were even treated with contempt on occasions and had to endure what the report calls “snide remarks” from staff in care homes.

The harsh judgment of the children also influenced the CPS’s decisions not to pursue one case to court.

Racial issue

Although the gang were all of Pakistani or North African heritage, this report concludes that, unlike the cases of child sex buse in Rotherham, fear of upsetting racial sensitivies played no part.

Inadequate processes

Here, the failure had more to do with widespread inadequate reporting and practice.

So much so that the leadership teams in the police and the council were not made aware of the problem until late 2010. Oxford’s Children Safeguarding Board was not effective.

Lack of awareness

But running though this catalogue of tragedy is a sense that the staff didn’t know what they were dealing with. There wasn’t sufficient knowledge or confidence about what child sexual exploitation was to make sense of it and help the children.

The future

The report makes recommendations to the Government including the need for more research into the reason why men of Pakistani heritage are involved in this crime.

It also questions why there is so much sexual advice and medical help provided for underage girls, making it harder to protect children from sexual exploitation.

There is no doubt that things have improved in Oxford.

But lessons have been learnt the hard way, lives have been ruined.

This serious case review may help others if it's used to spread best practice around the country - but its too late for the girls who were so badly let down.