Council accepts findings of Bullfinch serious case review

The independent Serious Case Review into Child Sexual Exploitation in Oxfordshire was published today (Tuesday 3 March 2015) by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board. The serious case review followed a trial in 2013 in which seven men were imprisoned for a total of 95 years for their crimes which took place from 2005-2011.

Jim Leivers, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Children, Education and Families, said:

“Like the whole community we are horrified at what happened in Oxford. We fully accept that we made many mistakes and missed opportunities to stop the abuse.

“After the trial, the council apologised to the girls for not stopping their abuse sooner, and I do so unreservedly again today. They suffered dreadfully at the hands of these violent men, and despite many attempts we failed to keep them safe while they were in our care.

“Since then we have been determined to make improvements and have worked hard to ensure that everything possible is done to make children safer in Oxfordshire. We are totally committed to tackling this abuse and the county council has already implemented all the recommendations for improvement, which the report acknowledges.

The report describes ‘concerted and vigorous action’ by all agencies to tackle child sexual exploitation and concludes: “Oxfordshire has made very significant progress from the time in 2011 it was finally realised there was a pattern of organised child sexual exploitation (CSE) and multiple victims”.

Supporting witnesses, convicting abusers

In 2012, the county council, Thames Valley Police and the health service set up a specialist team to tackle child sexual exploitation called the Kingfisher team.

Closer partnership working has led to 10 men being convicted of CSE related crimes and sentenced to over 45 years in prison. Kingfisher is currently working with around 70 young people who have been or at risk of being sexually exploited.

The report also says: “Oxfordshire now has a nationally renowned level of expertise in how to approach the multi-agency investigation of CSE.”

The report makes clear that there were mistakes made by all agencies including the county council and opportunities missed to stop the abuse. It also says there was “no evidence of wilful professional neglect or misconduct by organisations.”

The report notes that five of the seven convicted perpetrators as part of Operation Bullfinch were of Pakistani heritage and concludes that in Oxfordshire: “No evidence has been seen of any agency not acting when they should have done because of racial sensitivities”.

The conclusions of the report follow on from an inspection by children’s services inspectorate Ofsted in 2014, which rated Oxfordshire’s child protection system as ‘good’ and described its approach to tackling child sexual exploitation as ‘high quality’.

The power of the abusers was not understood

Jim Leivers said: “If we knew then what we know now about the grooming process, this would have been stopped much sooner. Before Operation Bullfinch people didn’t believe something this horrible could happen. We are under no illusions about child sexual exploitation now.

“This was organised crime on a massive scale that we had not seen before. Girls were systematically groomed to think their abusers were their boyfriends. Social workers tried to protect individuals, as the Serious Case Review acknowledges.

“However, in some cases children were treated as wayward teenagers consenting to sex. That was wholly wrong. Our whole approach has now changed – children are believed, we can spot the signs of grooming and sexual exploitation and the Kingfisher team embodies that huge change.”

In addition to setting up Kingfisher, other action taken to tackle child sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire includes:

  • 7,500 staff now trained to spot warning signs of CSE and take action – including police, teachers, care workers
  • Around 18,000 school children seen drama about child sexual exploitation and discussed the risks of grooming in class
  • School nurses in every secondary school with role in identifying children at risk
  • Building four new children’s homes to keep most vulnerable children in Oxfordshire

Details on actions taken

There are specialists who can advise you if you are worried about child sexual exploitation.

They can also talk to any child or young person themselves. Contact the Kingfisher Team on 01865 335 276.