AUTHORITIES missed countless opportunities to uncover the grooming of children, including fears in 2007 of an organised abuse ring in Oxford, a damning report into the Bullfinch scandal revealed today.

The 114-page Serious Case Review has just been released and it exposes how different authorities – principally the police and Oxfordshire County Council's children's services – ignored warnings signs and failed to understand how grooming gangs worked until 2011.

And the report, by Alan Bedford for the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board, said that if police officers and social workers did have suspicions, systems were so weak that senior managers who could have realised there was a widescale problem were never told.

The report has been released almost two years after seven men were jailed for a minimum of 95 years for the grooming, abuse, rape and prostitution of six girls.

Mr Bedford said, in his report, one of the key problems was that child sexual exploitation – the organised target, grooming and abuse of vulnerable underage girls by older men – was not understood by authorities in Oxfordshire at the time.

And both social services staff and police officers believed the victims were troubled and essentially were responsible for their own lives rather than targeting the abusers.

Mr Bedford wrote: “The language used by professionals was one which saw the girls as the source not the victims of their extreme behaviour and they received much less sympathy as a result.”

The report tells of police officers uncovering instances when the victims were found with their abusers but they did not do enough to stop it.

“The review shows that from 2005-10 there was sufficient known about the girls, drugs, prostitution and association with adult men to have generated a more rigorous and strategic response but this did not happen – and mostly information did not reach strategic levels,” it continued.

As well as the six victims – one of whom was just 11 when she was first abused – there have been another 367 Oxfordshire youngsters identified as being abused or in danger of being groomed by the county council's social services team.

The defendants in the first Bullfinch trial were of Pakistani or north African origin but their ethnicity was not a factor in authorities shying away from investigating cases, Mr Bedford added.

The failings of the authorities – which also include education and the health services – was summed up by Mr Bedford: “In the most simplified of summaries, a combination of not grasping the extent of exploitation, the focus on the girls and their families as the source of the problems, the corresponding lack of focus on perpetrator, and a host of administrative and management issues all worked together to lead to child sexual exploitation being identified later than it might have been.”

Police and social services were accused of not believing the girls or taking their families' complaints seriously enough.

Mr Bedford wrote: “They saw staff as not taking concerns seriously enough, not believing the girls, not picking up the hints that they were giving about their abuse and not being inquisitive enough about what was happening to them.”

One manager is described in the report as telling a parent their daughter was “streetwise and loves it.”

The report said police had 1,561 recorded contacts with the girls but only 26 offences were recorded.

“The Bullfinch inquiry and the [police review] identified many more recorded in other ways which, in the police view now, should have been responded to as crimes,” it said.

The police were accused of adopting tunnel vision, were investigations prior to Bullfinch looked incidents separately, “and not join the dots to other reports to the police”.

Reports of the girls going missing – which happened on more than 400 occasions – were not always dealt with properly, including one police call operator not recognising one report needed an urgent response even after a parent said their daughter was being “held against her will by Asian males”.

Child social care by the county council was also blamed: “CSC staff at times did not follow through some information that in hindsight needed investigation.”

In one case evidence of a 13-year-old child associating with older males and being sexually active was missed, with a team manager saying no further action was needed as there was a team around the child in place and the information passed to them However, despite the failings, Mr Bedford wrote: "The Serious Case Review has seen no evidence of wilful professional neglect or misconduct by organisations but there was at times a worrying lack of curiosity and follow through, and much work should have been considerably different and better.”

Oxfordshire's social services was thought to have had “a culture of really trying to avoid the issues and pretend they weren't there and no sense of urgency”, and that it was insufficiently well organised, weak at performance management, inclined to overrate its own performance was was resistant to change.

At the time Oxfordshire did not spend as much on child social care as other authorities, ranking 132nd out of 150 authorities nationally and with the 10th lowest number of social workers in the in the country.

Schools had a lack of understanding of child sexual exploitation and spotting the signs as well, Mr Bedford wrote.

Much of the criticism and incidents were expected, but Mr Bedford revealed that concerns about the prostitution of vulnerable girls in Oxford was first raised in 2007 – four years before the police launched Operation Bullfinch.

There were several mentions of the potential at the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board or its subgroups.

Minutes referring to the city sub-group noted “concerns about 14-15-year-old girls in relation to drugs/prostitution/going missing, a problem that seems to be increasing. It was agreed the board needs to address this. Action is in hand locally.”

In the June of that year there were discussions that “there is a serious concern that there is an organised abuse ring within Oxford and that a complex (organised or multiple) abuse investigation should be considered.”

However it appears the item then dropped off the board's agendas and nothing was done.

Thames Valley Police has referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over the report's findings.

Nobody at Oxfordshire County Council has been disciplined or seems likely to be over the catastrophic failures.

The council has confirmed to the Oxford Mail that while “mistakes were made but no evidence was found of misconduct of staff that would lead to disciplinary”.

Spokesman Paul Smith added: “This was confirmed by the serious case review, which states there was no evidence of wilful professional neglect, or misconduct by organisations.

“In cases where professional practice needed to improve that has been dealt with through training, particularly in relation to improving supervision of social workers as was highlighted in the report.

“To ensure that the county council has acted appropriately an independent investigation in to the conduct of all members of staff involved in Bullfinch has been conducted. The outcome of this investigation found that there were no matters of conduct that required the council to act.”

Mr Smith described the council internal review as thorough.

That investigation has been forwarded to the Health and Care Professions Council – which oversees the conduct of social services staff – to review.

Jim Leivers, Oxfordshire County Council’s Director for Children, Education and Families, said: “Like the whole community we are horrified at what happened in Oxford. We fully accept that we made many mistakes and missed opportunities to stop the abuse.

“After the trial, the council apologised to the girls for not stopping their abuse sooner, and I do so unreservedly again today.”

Chief Constable Sara Thornton added: “We have examined what went wrong and we are doing all that we can to put things right.

“After the 2013 trial, I personally apologised to the victims and their families for not identifying the systematic nature of the abuse sooner, that we were too reliant on victims supporting criminal proceedings and that it took too long to bring the offenders to justice.

“I want to reiterate that apology today.”

But the Government has dismissed one of the report's main planks – that child sexual exploitation was not understood – as an excuse for the failings.

Edward Timpson, the children and families under secretary, Lynne Featherstone, the minister for crime and prevention and Dr Dan Poulter, the under secretary for health wrote to Maggie Blyth, the independent chairwoman of the board, today, saying: “The depth of failure is at times hard to fathom and we do not accept explanations that child sexual exploitation (CSE) was not ‘widely recognised’ nationally at the time.

“As the serious case review notes, ‘One does not need training in CSE to know that a 12-year-old sleeping with a 25-year-old is not right, or that you don’t come back drunk, bruised, half naked and bleeding from seeing your 'friends'.”

The ministers have now said they want more work done to reassure the Government and the public things have changed.

Mrs Blyth said: "Each organisation needs to look at its own corporate governance and to look very carefully at whether there is any individual or corporate responsibility for what happened. I understand that will happen.

"It's very important that all services look very carefully, and I am assured they are taking action, that the practice of the staff they employ is effective and they hold to account those in their staff more effectively. 

"I've asked every organisations to make it clear to me what actions they have taken through their own guidance. 

"I hold to account all organisations to make sure all vulnerable children are protected."