CHIEF constable Sara Thornton yesterday refused to accept responsibility for the failings within Thames Valley Police.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail yesterday she said that her role had been to help the force improve once the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) was discovered.

The review revealed how officers did not cope with the abuse in front of them, with 1,561 recorded contacts with the girls but just 26 offences recorded.

Ms Thornton said her responsibility was to lead the force both when it was doing well and after it had been criticised.

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She said: “My responsibility as the leader was to ensure that we did everything in our power to improve the response. If you look through the review there is a whole chapter dedicated to the significant improvements made since 2011.”

Ms Thornton took up the post of chief constable in 2007, two years after the abuse of the victims in the Bullfinch scandal began.

But when asked how responsible she felt for the failings of her force, she said: “In 2013, I apologised for the fact that it had taken us too long to identify what was going on, that we were too reliant on victims giving evidence in court and therefore had taken too long in bringing offenders for justice.

“I would repeat that apology today.

I still feel very strongly that it wasn’t good enough.”

Ms Thornton is leaving TVP at the end of March to become the first chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, a move announced in December. She insisted that the findings in the review would not impact her role.

She said: “I apologised two years ago. I’m leaving TVP because I have been offered a unique opportunity in policing and that is the only reason why I’m leaving.”

Speaking about the review she agreed that a culture of ignorance around CSE and fear of not having enough evidence was to blame for officers not taking the abuse seriously enough.

“There were 26 recorded crimes but there was other information within other systems at TVP that amounted to crimes and they weren’t dealt with appropriately.

“Officers knew the difficulty of mounting criminal prosecutions, partly through experience of cases that had been recorded as crimes. In very few have we got a statement from the victim or a medical examination. In others the Crown Prosecution Service said they wouldn’t go ahead with a prosecution.”

She said in 2006 a case collapsed because the victim withdrew her evidence. Ms Thornton said this may have led “to a reluctance that they be recorded as crimes”.

She added: “I am absolutely clear that they should have been recorded as crimes, the issues that were happening in the force 10 years ago were issues that were happening nationally and we are determined to make that better.

“We didn’t appreciate the issues of CSE, we didn’t train our officers and they didn’t know what to look for. We know until 2010 what we did was inadequate.

“I know that we have to constantly reassure the public that the police can be trusted but I’m absolutely certain that it is clear that if there is any indication of a child being abused we will work very carefully and very sensitively to try to get to the bottom of it and bring the perpetrators to justice.”