AN OXFORD MP has welcomed calls to provide better support for children claiming to have been sexually exploited.
Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, made the comments after the head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said a generation of girls had been let down by the justice system.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer ordered an overhaul of the CPS’s response to complaints of alleged sex grooming, in a bid to increase conviction rates.
A national debate over child sex trafficking was sparked in May after nine men were found guilty of grooming and exploiting young teenage girls in Rochdale.
The trial that revealed police and social services in the town near Manchester had missed several opportunities to stop the abuse much sooner.
Mr Starmer told The Times: “If we’re honest, it’s the approach to the victims, the credibility issue, that caused these cases not to be prosecuted in the past. There was a lack of understanding.”
Nine men suspected of involvement in an alleged child sex abuse ring in Oxford are due to stand trial in London in January next year.
The men were arrested in the city in March as a part of Thames Valley Police’s Operation Bullfinch. Police believe up to 50 girls, aged between 11 and 16, could have been abused by an organised gang.
Conservative MP Ms Blackwood is a member of the House of Commons’ home affairs select committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the issue of the sexual exploitation of children.
At a hearing at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday MPs on the committee heard evidence from officials of the NSPCC, Childline and Barnardos.
Last night Ms Blackwood said: “It is completely unacceptable that not only do victims of child sexual exploitation face a struggle to be believed in some police stations – as the committee have heard happened in Rochdale – but that even where victims have come forward and police have managed to build strong cases for prosecution, again and again they have either seen the CPS refuse to prosecute, on the grounds that the witness is not credible, or the victims have been sometimes cross-examined by multiple barristers in court and made to feel like criminals themselves.
“One female officer told me, ‘if it was my daughter, I would think twice about putting her through such a living hell’.”
Ms Blackwood added: “These victims are incredibly courageous in wanting to come forward and bring their tormentors to justice – the criminal justice system should be supporting them, not allowing a culture of disbelief to continue even today.
“That is why the select committee is examining this issue, to see how victims and witnesses can be better supported through the criminal justice process and why I welcome the DPP’s commitment to review the way in which the CPS respond to child sexual exploitation cases.”
A 34-year-old man arrested as part of Operation Bullfinch was yesterday re-bailed until November 28. A 32-year-old man was released without charge.