Action on child abuse costs county £8m, conference told

Oxford Mail: Jim Leivers Jim Leivers

MORE than £8m from Oxfordshire County Council has been spent so far in tackling child sexual exploitation, it emerged yesterday.

Council leader Ian Hudspeth, said his authority had increased the amount of money it has been spending to tackle child sexual exploitation in the wake of Operation Bullfinch.

He said: “Primarily the money has come from children’s services – and we have not stopped doing something else to pay for this.

“But we have added in money from other pots.

“Part of the reason we have been able to do it is the increase in council tax.

“What we want to make sure is that we have the funding there to make sure it cannot happen again.”

In February the county council voted to increase council tax by 1.99 per cent despite a government incentive to freeze it.

A total of £3m was spent on Operation Bullfinch itself.

It went towards things like victim support and secondment of officers from the county council to the Bullfinch team, during the long investigation.

It also includes £1.4m on 21 new social workers and funding towards the £1m joint taskforce to tackle child sexual exploitation known as the Kingfisher team.

Despite the funding, Melinda Tilley, the cabinet member for children, education and families, said she could not guarantee the crimes wouldn’t be repeated.

She said: “I am not confident that the system will prevent this from happening again and we have heard that there are still issues but at least we know they are happening now.

“We know an awful lot more now than we did. The crux of it is the partnership with other agencies and the serious case review is an important part of understanding what happened.”

Children’s services director Jim Leivers revealed the £8m figure, which covers since 2010, as he addressed a conference in Oxford on the issue of child sexual exploitation yesterday.

He was one of the keynote speakers at the Kassam Stadium.

Speaking at the conference, Mr Leivers said: “In Oxfordshire we have put a lot of work into raising awareness and we have trained in the near end of 5,000 people.”

The conference was attended by 300 social workers from up and down the country who were hoping to learn from the county council’s work on the issue.

The sexual abuse of vulnerable young girls in council care was exposed under Thames Valley Police’s Operation Bullfinch, which was launched in May 2011.

An 18-week trial at the Old Bailey last year heard the victims – some of whom were under council care – were groomed, drugged, raped and prostituted by a gang of men.

The jury convicted seven men on May 14 last year of crimes including sex trafficking and conspiracy to rape, and the gang were jailed for a total of 95 years in June.

A serious case review is now under way to determine where the council and police went wrong.

The serious case review is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

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