Police chief giving evidence to child sex abuse inquiry on how Tower Hamlets copes
- Credit: Mike Brooke
The former police commander for Tower Hamlets and Hackney is to give evidence at the two-week inquiry into child sexual exploitation by organised networks which resumes this-morning.
Chief Supt Sue Williams, who now heads Scotland Yard’s key child protection unit, has been called to explain the Met’s policy at the inquiry looking into how Tower Hamlets and five other local authorities around the country respond to child abuse.
The inquiry focuses on the six separate local authority areas over the next nine days including Tower Hamlets, to assess what council safeguarding services have learned from high profile child sex scandals like Oxford, Rotherham and Rochdale.
The East End isn’t immune from networks preying on children, even during the pandemic lockdown, according to the QC representing Tower Hamlets in the inquiry.
“There is a very real threat to our community,” Cleo Perry told yesterday’s opening hearing. “These networks change tactics, building on frontline skills. Exploitation became more on line during Covid.”
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The council does what it can “to mitigate sexual abuse”, but she acknowledged there was no place for complacency.
Tower Hamlets brought in exploitation screening skills in March to include online social work analysis of risk.
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The QC revealed: “We are working with religious leaders in the community, meeting mosque leaders and the Osmani Trust to protect young people exposed to exploitation.”
A special London-wide child safeguarding unit has now been set up at Scotland Yard headed by Chief Insp Williams who left east London in 2019 to get it under way.
The post was created in response to HM Inspectorate investigation into child protection services in 2016 which also criticised police services.
The Met’s Chris Butterfied told yesterday’s opening hearing: “You’ll be hearing from Sue Williams who is now head of our safeguarding. Improvements have been made, but more work need to be done to improve child safeguarding.”
The Met has also set up local borough command units to deal with online abuse.
The number of children under Tower Hamlets care with concerns about exploitation has reached 161, the hearing was told. The council set up a child exploitation team in 2018 following a scathing Ofsted report the year before which exposed gaps with many cases slipping under the radar that were unknown to its safeguarding service.
The town hall’s response to Ofsted’s slamming report in 2017 has been “critical auditing” of 50 cases every year. It also re-examines previous cases to ensure everything has been complied with.
The 1989 Children’s Act has child and victim-blaming narrative, the hearing was told. But Tower Hamlets was now working from an alternative approach. Making “a cultural change”, however, would take time.
The inquiry focuses on six separate areas over the 10-day hearing with Tower Hamlets joined by local authorities in the Midlands, West Country, South Wales, the North West and North East, all representing a range of sizes, demographics and institutional practices.
One historic case from Yorkshire cited yesterday was a girl of 13 in Rochdale who was raped and passed around a network of up to 150 men.
QC Antonia Benfield, referring to her as “Daisy”, said she was forced into oral sex and passed around. A police operation led to the Rochdale Grooming trial when nine men were jailed.
QC Henrietta Hill spoke of “thousands of children exploited every year” with 40,000 in contact with social services up and down the country, while there were others the authorities didn’t know about.
There were 1,002 cases in 2018 and 5,900 (known) cases last year of sex grooming, rape and assault, but the numbers are much higher, she fears.
Exploitation has a harmful effect, the QC stressed. It devastates child victims’ lives into adulthood and even into old age.