Abusers 'prey on under-18 nights' in Telford, street pastors claim
Men suspected of being involved in child sexual exploitation "blatantly" prey on girls on under-18 nights in Shropshire, street pastors claim.
Telford pastor Rev Keith Osmund-Smith said registration numbers of vehicles seen regularly were passed to police.
Pastors raised concerns in a report on tackling child exploitation in Telford and Wrekin following Operation Chalice which saw seven men jailed in 2012.
Supt James Tozer said police "worked closely" with the volunteer pastors.
"The local community, including street pastors, play a vital role in tackling child sexual exploitation and we welcome any information which could help us to stop people committing these offences," he said.
Mr Osmund-Smith, who co-ordinates a team of 21 street pastors working alongside police community support officers and outreach workers, told the BBC: "We see the same vehicles, containing the same men. They are looking out for the girls and they are there for one thing.
"There have been occasions where pastors have stopped girls getting into the cars."
Operation Chalice led to prosecutions for a range of offences including rape, controlling prostitution and sexual activity with girls, some as young as 13.
The Children and Young People's Scrutiny Committee report from Telford and Wrekin Council said it was believed there were "far more" victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) than those seeking help.
"Despite the success of Operation Chalice, it is clear that CSE is still taking place in Telford and Wrekin, although the true scale of this crime is unknown," it said.
From September 2014 to September 2015, 256 child sex crimes were recorded in Telford and Wrekin - the highest per capita in England and Wales, according to Home Office figures.
In Telford and Wrekin there were 15.1 recorded cases per 10,000 residents, compared with 14.1 in Rochdale, and 13.5 in both Stoke-on-Trent and Rotherham.
The NSPCC, while describing the Telford figures as "shocking", said they suggested victims were more confident about coming forward.
Findings from the report include:
- A total of 721 victims of incidents connected with child sexual exploitation identified in the Warwickshire and West Mercia Police areas between April 2013 and August 2014
- Of these victims, 81% were female
- The number of CSE victims included 72 people under 18, in Telford and Wrekin
- There were 399 CSE perpetrators across both force areas, 95% of whom were male
- When the identity of the perpetrator was known, 90% were white, 7% Asian and 2% black
The Telford scrutiny committee was "particularly concerned" by pastors' eye-witness accounts that girls were "vulnerable to predators" after consuming alcohol or drugs. Pastors also said they feared "a new generation of post-Chalice perpetrators" was growing up and called for the problem to be acknowledged so it could be tackled.
Mr Osmund-Smith said youngsters often "preloaded" with alcohol ahead of the monthly under-18 nights in Telford and Wellington and pastors were finding them drunk, sometimes passed out, and would then call parents to collect them.
He said the men they saw approaching under-age girls were mainly of British Pakistani heritage "but not exclusively so".
He said the pastors had been working with elders from the Muslim community who were trying to address the behaviour of a minority of young men.
"Imams at both mosques and elders are as upset and distressed as any other community would be."
Most children were collected by parents or carers, but some events saw 30 to 50 youngsters going into Oakengates town centre afterwards, he said.
"These are 14 or 15 year olds, some who are drunk, so the potential for safeguarding issues is enormous," he said.
Mr Osmund-Smith believes stopping under-18 nights and providing alternative entertainment for some 250 youngsters it attracted would be a "good start" to tackling child sexual exploitation.
He said the nightclubs did not sell alcohol to under 18s and had qualified door staff, but "abdicated responsibility" after the doors closed, meaning police and pastors had to pick up the pieces.
The report found agencies were "working well together" to respond to known CSE cases, although some victims had not received the support they needed.
Events '100% safe'
The committee made 38 recommendations, including carrying out work to identify the scale of the crime, raising awareness, including among primary school children; and setting up a "whistle-blowing hot line" for information to be passed on anonymously.
Costas Vanezi , who owns Pussycats in Wellington, and Club Crush in Telford town centre, said girls were not approached outside his venues, adding Mr Osmund-Smith had done "nothing but praise" the organisation of its last two under-18 nights.
"The under-18 events are 100% safe. The police are there, we have our own security and CCTV and no alcohol is served," he said.
He said anyone turning up drunk was not allowed in and the club would also call parents to take youngsters home.
Mr Vanezi said: "You can't lock children up in their homes. It it is up to parents and us as a society to make sure children are safe wherever they may be."