Newspaper review: Abuse debate, money laundering and cheaper beer

Reports into two scandals are a common theme in Wednesday's papers.

The first, is the serious case review into the Oxfordshire grooming case, in which as many as 373 vulnerable children may have been targeted by gangs of men in the county. In 2013, seven men were jailed for the crimes.

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The Guardian summarises the report's main finding that the children, mainly girls aged under 17, had been failed by the county's authorities.

"Police and social workers in Oxfordshire had a tainted perception that girls as young as 11 consented to sex with men who raped and brutalised them," it says.

The paper says as well as tolerating under-age sex, the authorities blamed the girls for their behaviour and putting themselves at risk; failed to recognise grooming; and had "a culture of denial".

One victim tells the paper that police dismissed her complaint thinking it was her "being naughty".

One Oxfordshire-based police officer, Det Insp Laura McInnes - who now heads the area's multi-agency child protection unit - tells the Guardian: "It's amazing how understanding of child sexual exploitation has changed in the last two years.

"We didn't understand it... we were blinkered."

The Independent highlights one case mentioned in the report where an Oxfordshire council worker warned superiors in a series of emails about a series of men he had seen going to a flat containing a vulnerable 13-year-old girl.

The man was told not to email and criticised for behaving "unprofessionally", the paper reports.

"Nobody has been disciplined or sacked as a result of the failures," it adds.

The Times headline says the review calls for a "national debate on Muslim sex grooming".

The paper's report notes that why similar pattern of abuse - gangs of men of mainly Pakistani heritage exploiting underage white girls - has been indentified in many towns and cities, including Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby, Telford and Birmingham.

Image caption Seven men were jailed in 2013 at the Old Bailey for sexually exploiting children in Oxfordshire

The Daily Express's editorial welcomes the recent plans outlined to jail officials who fail to protect children.

"While the selfless desire to protect children should be incentive enough for anybody to act on claims of abuse it seems in far too many cases it is not," it comments.

The Guardian's opinion column however casts doubts on the proposals.

It says they risk turning "the whole focus of attention on the failings of officials and away from the crimes being committed by the real abusers".

The paper concludes this could hamper the recruitment of skilled specialists, and waste resources imprisoning bad officials when they would be better spent recruiting good ones.

'Ideological agenda'

The other scandal in the papers is the investigation into the failings at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria which contributed to the deaths of 11 babies and one mother, between 2004 and 2013.

The Daily Telegraph says the report into the case laid blame on "musketeer" midwives who were on a quest to pursue "natural childbirth at any cost".

A national inquiry will now look into maternity services, "amid fears that an ideological push for natural childbirth among midwives could be putting children at risk in other units," the paper notes.

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It adds that "Successive Governments have supported a 'choice' agenda" in maternity, allowing women to give birth at home, in a midwife-led unit or a traditional labour ward.

But it explains that experts now say the case "showed the importance of putting a woman's safety ahead of any ideological agenda".

The Sun headlines its coverage: "11 babies and a mum needlessly died. How can it not be criminal?"

After noting that medical notes were deliberately lost at the hospital and mistakes covered up, its editorial asks: "Why are these midwives and officials not in the dock? Will no one face justice for negligence or worse?"

One father who lost his wife and newborn son in the scandal tells the Daily Mirror, "action has to be taken, otherwise in five years we will be commissioning another expensive report".

The paper's health editor Andrew Gregory writes that the NHS must investigate such incidents much faster and hospital staff should be compelled to report mistakes.

"No staff member should necessarily lose their job through an honest mistake, but those who fail to own should be reprimanded," he adds.

Gregory insists that anyone covering up a mistake "should not be able to keep their job in the NHS alongside the 1.3m trustworthy staff who look after our needs every day".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jeremy Hunt

He also welcomes Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's plan to set up a special team to investigate when clusters of cases occur, such as in Furness General.

The Times analysis draws parallels between the Cumbrian case and that at Stafford Hospital.

It says both were "isolated, less prestigious hospitals with few links to the wider clinical world.

"In such an environment, skills could atrophy, standards slip and cliques entrench themselves."

'Grand corruption'

The Independent's lead suggests the London property boom is being fuelled by "dirty money" being laundered through the capital via expensive housing.

"Some 36,342 properties in London have been bought through hidden companies in offshore havens and while a majority of those will have been kept secret for legitimate privacy purposes, vast numbers are thought to have been bought anonymously to hide stolen money," it writes.

Criminals and corrupt officials from foreign countries were buying high-cost housing via a web of offshore companies as a way to hide illicit cash, it explains.

Image caption Col Gaddafi's son Saadi was found to own a £10m mansion in north London, the Independent says

The Independent says the phenomena has a "ripple effect" pushing up London prices generally and could be responsible for developers preferring to build expensive houses and flats over ones affordable for ordinary people.

The paper's story comes from a report released by anti-corruption organisation Transparency International (TI), which analysed police figures and other sources.

TI says London has become "a global capital of corruption" due to "Britain's notoriously lax rules on the disclosure of property ownership".

Det Ch Insp Jon Benton of the Metropolitan Police's Proceeds of Corruption Unit tells the paper, "In nearly all the grand corruption cases we investigate, we find - what we suspect is - proceeds of corruption being used to purchase high-value properties."

The money used to purchase these properties, he points out, is often stolen "from the world's poorest people".

The paper says TI is calling for estate agents, lawyers, financial services firms and art dealers in the UK to do more to flag up potentially dirty money being used to purchase assets in Britain.

Only 179 cases were reported to the authorities last year, it notes.


In other stories in Wednesday's press, the Sun has some potential good news for lovers of the national tipple in predicting that the Chancellor George Osborne will cut beer duty in the Budget on 18 March.

Mr Osborne, who cut duty in his last two Budgets, has - according to the Sun - reduced the price of a pint by 16p, largely through abolishing the Beer Duty Escalator, which automatically raised the tax hike on the drink.

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Image caption It's the chancellor's round

The paper says "experts" reckon the combined reductions have saved 1,000 pubs from closure.

Looking for somewhere to take the kids over the Easter holidays? How about going to a warehouse in Rugeley, Staffordshire?

The Daily Mirror reports that Amazon's huge "fulfilment centre" is to open for free guided tours from month, and it hopes to "compete with other Midlands attractions like Warwick Castle, Cadbury World and Alton Towers".

The facility, north of Birmingham, is so big, the Mirror adds, that workers walk between seven and 15 miles each day, collecting items for dispatch with the aid of satnavs.

People from Cardiff have long claimed that Swansea is a place where time stands still, but a story in the Daily Telegraph suggests the charge will soon be coming true.

The paper says that since the retirement of the city's official horologist David Mitchell there has been no one qualified to wind Swansea's eight municipal clocks.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Swansea: stopped

The Telegraph continues that for the last week the landmark timepieces, including the clock on the city's Guildhall, St Marys church, and old police station, have been stuck at either midnight or midday.

"I was emotional with the council doing my last round," says Mr Mitchell, 72. "Swansea has stopped".

The paper adds the council is aiming to introduce automatic winding mechanisms to its municipal clocks as soon as possible.

And for the yuckiest story of the day, turn to the Guardian and its tale of "robo-roach".

The paper reports that scientists at a Texan university have been able to develop a way to control cockroaches by gluing a three gram backpack with a microchip to their back.

The chip allows the scientists to control the insect's central nervous system, allowing them to control its movements.

It is hoped the creepy crawlies can be fitted with tiny cameras, microphones or other sensors and sent "places would rather not be."

The Guardian suggests these might be "collapsed buildings, broken sewers or student kitchens".

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