POLICE failed the Bullfinch victims but Andrew Murray, the head of crime investigation at Thames Valley, says the force is adamant it will not do so again.

Yesterday’s report revealed more of the failures by Thames Valley officers to intervene as the Bullfinch gang groomed and abused their victims, and also the culture that dismissed the youngsters as just troubled girls.

Since the end of the trial, Detective Chief Superintendent Murray said, a complete review has been undertaken – its report that went to the safeguarding board ran to a total of 550 pages – and every officer has been told protecting the vulnerable is a top priority.

But given the scale of the failures in Oxford, what does that mean?

Our top stories

Det Ch Supt Murray said: “We are not in the business of giving guarantees because of what we uncovered of the scale of child abuse across the Thames Valley.

“We know there will always be men out there who will abuse children.

But what we can guarantee is that every child will be listened to and we will never give up on that child.

Thames Valley Police will continue to make protecting children an absolute priority.”

It not being one of the main priorities, Mr Murray said, was a huge part of the problem.

A decade ago, burglary in Oxford was considered more important and there were also competing issues demanding police attention like terrorism, cyber-crime and what he said could be described as “the more conventional” forms of child abuse.

He added: “Although protecting children was always a priority, somehow amongst the other priorities 10 years ago I felt it did not have sufficient emphasis.

“We underestimated the scale of the problem. And that is not just Oxford and Thames Valley, but the police service across the country.

The term child sexual exploitation has only just been coined but it has probably been there for some time.

“The majority of our efforts were concentrated around protecting children in their homes and from people in positions of trust and those still make up 90 per cent of the allegations we receive.

“We simply failed to acknowledge that there was another model of child abuse.”

He added: “There will be instances [in how police operated] which I am not not proud of, how we reacted to the girls when we found them, how we dealt with their parents.”

Every front line officer, and there are about 4,000 of them, has been trained to recognise the signs of potential grooming gangs and told they cannot turn a blind eye.

One of the victims of Bullfinch recorded a video, described as frank and honest, about how police in Oxford failed her and the other girls and what they should have done.

That is also shown to every officer.

And as well as the Kingfisher team, the force’s major crime departments with the most experienced investigators are involved in the larger cases.

Det Ch Supt Murray added: “I say to the detectives that in the 21st century being a detective is less about chasing armed robbers and kilos of heroin and more about minimising risk and investigating abuse of vulnerable people.”

One of the issues the victim raises in the video is how, at times, she was abusive to officers, difficult to deal with and would not go to court.

Officers would drop cases because of these difficulties. Mr Murray said: “But she was the child and we were the professionals. We need to find a way to work all through that.”

Despite the report’s criticisms though, he added: “It is not fair to say that we did not do anything in terms of these investigations, but they were single isolated investigations looking at single victims.

“We now know it requires teams of detectives working in partnership with health workers and social workers in order to give victims the best possible support and best possible corroborating evidence.”

Where the police did go wrong – and social services have admitted the same thing – was believing the girls had made “lifestyle choices”.

Mr Murray said the approach had been to concentrate on the child by putting them in secure accommodation.

All that would happen was the girls would run away – the Bullfinch victims were reported missing 400 times – and back into the arms of their abusers.

Targeting the grooming gangs should have been the priority.

The force has already apologised to the victims and their families, amid its promises of learning lessons.

But Det Ch Supt Murray admitted: “An apology is not good enough without learning lessons and making sure those lessons are implemented for the future.

“The only thing we could achieve as far as the girls was to get a form of justice for them and learn the lessons so it won’t happen in the future.”

The cultural backgrounds.

ONE area Detective Chief Superintendent Andrew Murray admits police are struggling with is why organised grooming gangs are largely made up of men of Pakistani and North African heritage.

Among the different types of child abuse, it is only child sexual exploitation where the cultural backgrounds of the paedophiles is proportionately skewed and Mr Murray believes that needs to be studied and understood, so as to help prevent future scandals.

He said: “Last year, Thames Valley Police had about 1,600 allegations of child abuse and 90 per cent of those were in the model of intra-familial breach of trust.

“There was no dis-proportionality in the backgrounds of offenders.

“In the investigations we have done of men who exchange indecent images there was no dis-proportionality.

“But in the model of exploitation we call child sexual exploitation, where you have discovered loosely organised gangs of offenders abusing more than one victim, then there does appear to be an element of dis-proportionality.

“It’s an incomplete picture and we would welcome any kind of independent academic analysis to look at this issue. It is not something that we should be afraid of.

“We work with all kinds of different community leaders and they are just as keen to root out these abusers. We can all speculate, but we need independent academic analysis.”

The facts.

  • 162 child sexual exploitation (CSE) offences in Thames Valley in 2014
  • 5.2 per cent of all sexual offences in 2014 were CSE
  • 206 children in Oxfordshire referred to specialist teams over fears of grooming or that they are at risk between Nov 2012 and Nov 2014. Not all turned out to be CSE
  • 54 men served with child abduction notices banning them from contacting underage girls in Oxfordshire
  • 15 people charged with 85 CSE sexual offences since Bullfinch
  • 550 hotels, guesthouses, licensed premises, fast food outlets and licensed taxi firms have received training on how to spot danger signs

Source: Thames Valley Police