Senior officials have chosen not to resign over a catalogue of failings and missed opportunities which left a sex trafficking gang in Oxford free to exploit young girls for many years.
The chief constable of Thames Valley police, Sara Thornton and the chief executive of Oxfordshire county council, Joanna Simons, said they would stay in their posts despite criticism over the scandal.
The police investigation into the trafficking gang that operated in the backstreets of Oxford to enslave girls as young as 11 and sell them for sex, is continuing. Detectives are investigating more than 50 men and are urging young girls who might be victims to come forward.
On Tuesday seven men from Oxford were convicted of 43 offences of rape, child prostitution, trafficking and conspiracy to rape after a three-and-a-half-month trial in which six victims gave harrowing evidence of repeated sadistic abuse. Police believe more than 50 girls have been abused and prostituted by the men over many years.
The police and social services had several warnings about the activities of a group of men in Oxford as far back as 2006, including at least six complaints from victims. But no one put the intelligence together and there were no successful prosecutions.
A serious case review is underway into the failings by the authorities which is being led by David Spicer, a barrister and vice-chairman of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Baspcan).
Thornton, who became chief constable in 2007, said on Wednesday she would not be stepping down.
“I think the focus for me is on driving improvements into the future,” she told BBC Radio 4.
She said the cases were originally looked at individually when girls came forward to make complaints. She said: “I don’t think we understood the extent that the abuse was systematic and it was organised. It was only when we sat down, pooled our information with that of the social workers, that we began to piece together the picture which explained what was happening in terms of this criminal network in Oxford.”
Simons admitted that the council and others should “take enormous responsibility” for what happened.
She said she had asked herself some “very hard questions” but would not be resigning.
Barnardo’s said a survey in England and Wales showed just 15 out of 56 known police investigations into child sexual exploitation in 2012 had so far resulted in prosecutions.
Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of the charity, said: “Our services know all too well the difficulties involved in getting cases of child sexual exploitation to court but these shocking statistics starkly demonstrate just how hard it is.
“From talking to sexually exploited children around the country, I know the courage it takes to seek a prosecution.
“If we want victims to have confidence in the law, it is vital that justice is done and that we work together to bring about more successful prosecutions for these crimes.”