CHILD protection authorities feared an organised gang of paedophiles was prostituting vulnerable girls four years before Operation Bullfinch was launched – but nothing was done.

The extent of catastrophic failures by authorities – predominantly police and Oxfordshire County Council’s child services department – to realise dozens of girls were being groomed, abused, raped or prostituted were laid bare yesterday in a damning report.

The Serious Case Review – ordered because of the Bullfinch scandal for which seven men were jailed for a minimum of 95 years – showed the professionals charged with protecting six girls routinely ignored signs of abuse, even when they found the underage victims with adult men.

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

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Mr Bedford said one of the key problems was that child sexual exploitation – the organised targeting, grooming and abuse of vulnerable underage girls by older men – was not understood by authorities in Oxfordshire between 2005 and 2010.

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.”

He added: “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.”

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 by the county council’s social services team as being abused or in danger of being groomed.

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 only began to link the hundreds of times vulnerable girls were disappearing in 2010, but the report revealed warnings were raised with the Safeguarding Board – made up of representatives from organisations including police, social services and health – in 2007.

Minutes referring to the city sub-group noted “concerns about 14 to 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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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

No names.

MAGGIE BLYTH, the independent chairwoman of the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board, yesterday refused to say if individual police, social services or other staff should be held responsible.

The Serious Case Review did not name a single person and Ms Blyth, who has chaired several child safeguarding boards, said it was not there to publicly identify those responsible.

No police officer, social worker or health worker has been disciplined.

Ms 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.

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

Council worker's fears harshly dismissed.

A FRUSTRATED city council worker – a former policeman – who tried repeatedly to raise the alarm about the danger to one of the Bullfinch victims was dismissed “in a rather hostile and demeaning” manner, the report reveals.

In fact, instead of the fears of the city crime and neighbourhood officer being seized upon by senior social services staff, Oxfordshire County Council complained about him to his bosses – who caved in and apologised unreservedly.

Serious Case Review author Alan Bedford highlighted the officer’s fight in 2007 and 2008 as one of the instances where warnings by staff on the ground were not seized upon.

Mr Bedford said the officer – who has not been identified – emailed senior child social care staff. One stated: “Can we all live with the risk that this young girl is exposed to in view of the intelligence we have of her association with males.”

Responses from senior child social care staff were, said Mr Bedford “rather hostile and demeaning” and the officer was subject to “rather harsh disregard and criticism”.

The county’s head of adult social services complained to the city council and a senior manager then apologised for the “unprofessional way” the officer was acting and apologised unreservedly.

Mr Bedford said: “The author understands the worker was asked to stop emailing, but not told his concerns were inappropriate.

“Whatever the style of the nuisance officer concerned, he was trying to get a child protected and responses received (including turning down a case conference request) show one reason why the full picture of child sexual exploitation was delayed.”