Survivors of child sexual exploitation in Telford speak out as long-awaited inquiry is published

ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman reports on the conclusions of the inquiry that found evidence of child sex crimes in Telford being ignored for generations

Words by ITV News Producer Catherine Reid

For survivors like Holly and Scarlett, the report into child sexual exploitation in Telford is as much about changing the future as it is getting answers about the past.

Young girls were groomed, trafficked and abused in the Shropshire town for decades, their suffering seemingly ignored by those who were supposed to protect them.

Over the last four years, an independent inquiry has been looking child sexual exploitation in Telford and Wrekin dating back to the 1980s.

ITV News spoke to two survivors about their experiences.

Scarlett Jones

Abused by her own father from a young age, Scarlett (not her real name) did everything she could to avoid going home.

Dawdling back from school one afternoon, she was approached by an older man who told her she was pretty and that he wanted to meet her later on.

"I was quite flattered. I remember going back to meet him and he took me to a deserted house.

"There was literally just a mattress on the floor. We sat down, he started talking to me and pushed me over. That was the first time he raped me."

Scarlett Jones says she struggled to realise she was being abused after being abused by her father from a young age. Credit: ITV News

Scarlett was just 14 at the time, and from there, the abuse escalated. The man would start taking Scarlett to more remote locations, bringing his friends along.

She added: "After being abused from such a young age, I think I struggled to realise that this relationship was abusive because actually, I believed that's what I was put on this earth for, that that's what every man did to a child."

By the time she was 15, Scarlett was pregnant. Her abuser took her to get an abortion, but she didn't have one.

"In my mind," she said, "I [thought I was] going to have a happy family and everything's going to be normal.

"A few days later, I was walking home and someone jumped on me from behind. I was beaten to the point where I couldn't even stand up. The person doing it was hitting and kicking my stomach."

Scarlett went on to have the baby and her abuser arranged a flat for her in Wellington. He would bring his friends round and she was constantly beaten or threatened with violence if she didn't comply.

But even when Scarlett had the courage to ring the police, she claims she was ignored.

"Nobody even told me that he committed a crime. They just told me it was domestic violence and nothing that they could do about it.

"Even when I was in foster care, nobody asked me what was going on in my life. Nobody [at school] ever asked me when I was pregnant at 15. I was just expelled because they didn't want other people to think it was acceptable to behave like I did."

She added: "You shouldn't have to wait 20, 30 years for somebody to listen. I hope [the inquiry] makes a change for all the children that are now suffering."

More than 1,000 children were abused. Credit: ITV News

Holly Archer

Holly long campaigned for an inquiry after being groomed when she was a teenager. Her name has been changed to protect her identity.

She described a happy, stable childhood, but when she was 14, her phone number was sold by a younger man to an older man.

He started harassing her until, one day, she met him out of curiosity.

"He would give me money, buy me food, but none of it was affectionate. I didn't believe he was my boyfriend."

But he quickly began raping her, threatening violence against her family and that he would tell them she was a prostitute.

Other men started getting involved, and then Holly was trafficked across Shropshire and the West Midlands.

"I didn't understand how it had gone from living a happy to life to being trapped in rooms with a mattress on the floor and a halogen heater, with a man in his 80s who had paid for me.

"Even as an adult woman, I don't think I'd be able to comprehend that situation now if it happened to me."

She added: "People ask me why I would get in the car. I was 14 years old, my whole life had switched upside down from this fairy tale to being surrounded by predators all the time.

"Sometimes it's a choice of the lesser of two evils. There would be threats of physical violence, or burning my house down which was something that had already happened in Telford. I didn't want my family to die."

Holly Archer (not her real name) was trafficked across Shropshire and the West Midlands. Credit: ITV News

Holly was controlled by fear and shame.

She said: "It's impossible when you're labelled with all those labels to tell anyone anything without feeling so ashamed and dirty and rubbish about yourself."

She, too, recalls being ignored by the authorities.

"The police would drive past me, they would see me walking around. I've been in cars, I've been stopped and searched. They never even took my name. They never took any of my details. They weren't interested."

After trying to take her own life aged 16, Holly was seen by a psychiatrist and says she was referred to as 'promiscuous' in her medical notes.

"Nobody put two and two together," she said. "I think there was a culture of 'I don't want to deal with that'."

Holly campaigned for the inquiry and now helps other survivors of CSE through The Holly Project.

"We will never stop it happening, but I want any recommendations from the report to be implemented. We need to be proactive, that's my hope."

West Mercia Police have apologised to children who were sexually exploited in Telford over the past 30 years, saying their actions “fell far short of the help and protection you should have had from us”. Speaking on behalf of the force, Assistant Chief Constable Richard Cooper, said: "I would like to say sorry. Sorry to the survivors and all those affected by child sexual exploitation in Telford. "While there were no findings of corruption, our actions fell far short of the help and protection you should have had from us, it was unacceptable, we let you down. "It is important we now take time to reflect critically and carefully on the context of the report and the recommendations that have been made."

In a statement, a spokesperson for Telford and Wrekin Council said: "We apologise wholeheartedly to victims and survivors for the pain they have gone through and thank them for sharing their experiences with the Inquiry, which must have been incredibly difficult to do. "Child sexual exploitation is a vile crime that disgusts us and all right thinking people. "The Independent Inquiry acknowledges we have made significant improvements in recent years. We are working very hard, day in and day out, to provide the best possible support for victims of this crime. We will continue to work alongside and listen to victims and survivors. "Telford & Wrekin Council commissioned the report that dates back to 1989 and accept the Inquiry’s recommendations, many of which we are already carrying out."

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this article, you can get help by contacting: