Bullfinch Statement from the Police and Crime Commissioner
Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld has released this statement in response to conclusion of the Bullfinch trial:
This must be one of the most unpleasant and difficult cases Thames Valley Police have ever had to conduct.
It involved the molestation, rape and torture of very underage girls, on a large scale. We are fortunate it did not include murder. It would appear to have been a serious organised crime business that has extended well beyond Oxford. The court case has been conducted in full public view in the Old Bailey. The evidence has been so harrowing that we have had both members of the jury and hardened reporters in tears.
I am not going to be an apologist for anyone or any organisation. What I will say is that we have brought this case to justice in the Thames Valley. It may well still be happening elsewhere.
This case opens up a number of disturbing questions as to how we look after children in care, and how we conduct our criminal justice system. Both have clearly failed the children. At the moment it almost seems to actively look the other way. This has to stop. The state can never be an ideal replacement for good parenting, but when it has to step in it must do so kindly, and with firmness, the two are not incompatible.
I am calling for a full public inquiry into how we safeguard children nationally.
No organisation comes out of this well. However, the victims were brave enough to give evidence which was crucial in bringing this to court and securing a conviction.
Firstly schools. Some of these children were often absent from school. Who was this reported to and what action was taken? No one within the education system seems to have woken up to what was happening.
Secondly the NHS. Some of these girls went to Sexual Health Clinics. Did no one notice how young they were? Did the easy excuse of patient confidentiality take precedence over common sense? Why was nothing done?
Social Services. Most of these children were meant to be looked after by Social Services. They were obviously not being looked after properly. Councils and their social services have a duty of corporate parenthood. These girls were constantly going missing, in one girl’s case a considerable amount of times. The system was looking the other way while these young girls were being exploited and abused. We have a rulebook in which apparently the human rights of these young children are considered more important than safe guarding them. Under the current rules it is almost impossible to safeguard these children whose human rights allow them to go endlessly missing or absent from their care homes.
The police. This should have been picked up earlier. The indications were there. The police did try on several occasions to bring cases to court but without much success. What has been learned from this case is how to collect the necessary evidence, and I hope this knowledge will now be widely disseminated throughout the UK police forces.
The criminal justice system. It is extremely difficult to bring a case of this nature to court. Not only is it difficult to produce the evidence in a form that will be accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service, but the confrontational system of giving evidence in court to an aggressive inquisitorial legal system is damaging to young witnesses. It is very intimidating for young girls to give evidence like this in court, and that is why prosecutions so often fail.
This case is by no means over. There are other victims. There are other abusers within our community who I hope can be brought to justice. We need our communities to work with us and our partners. If anyone has suspicions about child sexual exploitation happening in their communities they have a duty to report it to the police. Safeguarding is the responsibility of each one of us and not just those in authority. The perpetrators who are still at liberty should not sleep easy; we will not be giving up on the follow up of this case, which will extend well beyond Oxford.
There are immediate actions that all agencies involved in this need to take. There will be an independent Serious Case Review, however it will take time. This is not an isolated case. There are likely to be similar cases going on in all our major cities, and indeed in many towns. It needs to be stopped now, and social services, the police, the NHS, schools and the criminal justice system all need to take immediate action to totally satisfy themselves that this is not going on in their area.
We have a finite number of police available to investigate this sort of abuse. However, this year I have been able to significantly increase the number of officers in the Thames Valley dealing with child protection. I believe that to be necessary.
I have nothing but praise for how this very difficult and sensitive investigation was carried out by a team of well led police officers, and which has led to a successful result. However, it begs the question of why did it take so long for all agencies involved to respond to the scale of what was happening. That will be at the heart of the Serious Case Review that is now being undertaken.
I am also asking for a full public inquiry into safe guarding of children nationally. Not only about the failings but also to make recommendations as to how the law and guidelines can be altered to make it far easier to protect children from this happening in the future.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley
The PCC will be conducting interviews tomorrow (15/5) from 9.30am, requests can be made through the force press bureau on 01865 846699