MORE than £1m is being spent to fight criminals sexually exploiting children in Oxfordshire.

A new specialist team has been set up at Cowley Police Station to prevent abuse, protect youngsters at risk, and prosecute the perpetrators.

It comes as nine men are due to stand trial at the Old Bailey next month, accused of involvement in a suspected child sex abuse ring in Oxford.

The charges were made after Operation Bullfinch, which saw men arrested in dawn raids across the city in March.

The new project, dubbed the Kingfisher team, is made up of staff from Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council after both organisations worked together on the investigation.

The force has pledged £500,000 to tackle the problem across the region and the council has put aside £620,000 to run the team.

Det Ch Supt Andy Murray, head of force crime, said: “We are simply not going to tolerate the sexual exploitation of our children.

“Thames Valley Police will continue to work closely with our partner agencies and communities to raise awareness, and is proactively looking for those who commit this type of offence.

“Our commitment to uncover the truth, protect the children and see as many offenders in court as possible is absolute.”

The police force is providing a detective sergeant, a detective constable, a case investigator, an intelligence officer and a missing person’s coordinator.

The council is funding five social workers, two family support workers, and an administrator.

The team, which started last month, will work with secondary schools to identify children at risk. It also aims to work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and support victims and parents.

Jim Leivers, the council’s director for children, education and families, said: “The county council and police have been working together for a considerable time and this is the logical conclusion of that co-operation.

“Having worked together on Operation Bullfinch, which began in spring 2011, we’re formalising our links by having this joint team. The message is clear, the authorities are set up to combat this type of crime in Oxfordshire.”

Nicola Blackwood, Oxford West and Abingdon MP, said: “Evidence from across the country shows units of trained professionals working together in one location like this are the most effective way to prevent, identify and prosecute child sexual exploitation.

“It is chilling to think young people are being targeted in this way just yards from where we live and work, but the creation of the Kingfisher team provides some reassurance that our local authorities are placing a high priority on confronting and tackling this problem.”

East Oxford MP Andrew Smith said: “It is vital everything possible is done to protect children from abuse and it is good to see concerted action. It is crucial all children know they can speak out and there is someone to help.”