HUNDREDS of children subjected to ‘horrific abuse’ in Oxfordshire could have been saved if public bodies had not overlooked their plight, the chief inspector of police forces said.

Sir Thomas Winsor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said in a report yesterday that child sexual exploitation crimes ‘could have been prevented’ if the police and other agencies had ‘understood their plight’ and ‘discharged their obligations’.

The NSPCC said it was ‘impossible to forget’ hundreds of children suffered at the hands of paedophile rings because of failings by Thames Valley Police.

A spokesman added although it was encouraging to see forces recognising their weaknesses when it comes to protecting vulnerable children, it was ‘not enough’.

Sir Thomas also said forces are having to pick up the slack as cuts in other public services increase pressure on them. He warned against expecting police forces to be able to deal with the increasing demand caused by a shortage in mental health provision. He said: “In some areas, particularly where people with mental health problems need urgent help, the police are increasingly being used as the service of first resort. This is wrong.”