THE former leader of Oxfordshire County Council “holds his hands up” that it failed the victims of the Bullfinch scandal under his watch.

Keith Mitchell stepped down from the council in 2012 after 10 years, covering the entire time that six girls, aged between 11 and 15, were abused.

A Serious Case Review into the scandal highlighted failings within the child social care department and that evidence of vulnerable girls being gromed, abused and prostituted was not fed up to senior staff.

He told the Oxford Mail the issue was “swept under the carpet” at the time as he accepted the findings of the Serious Case Review, published on Tuesday.

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He said: “I think it’s a very fair report and the council has accepted that. I hold up my hands that we took far too long on this horrible issue. It was a failure and it caused a huge amount of suffering to a lot of children.”

But he said there was nothing he could have done differently during his time as leader to help the victims get support sooner.

“I have racked my brain about this and I don’t think any of us had any idea of the depth of this and the scale of it.

“I don’t know what more I could have done.”

Mr Mitchell said an example of information not working its way up the management chain was a meeting of a subgroup of the Oxfordshire Children Safeguarding Board as early as 2007 that raised concerns of an “organised abuse ring” operating in the city.

He said: “I don’t really understand why supervisors weren’t asking searching questions of their staff or why they weren’t probing or inquisitive enough.

“We should have had a better process in place so they could bring it up to senior management.”

The review, written by Alan Bedford, said there was an “oppressive culture” in the council that stopped staff raising concerns about the abuse.

Mr Mitchell denied that and said: “I don’t recognise that and I would feel very unhappy if that was true.

“I thought we encouraged an open culture, we were there all the time talking to people.”

He also defended chief executive Joanna Simons and said she should not have to resign.

“She was the best chief executive,”

he said. “I had great confidence in her and continue to have that. She, like me, learned about this very late in the day.”

But it seemed yesterday current councillors were not as convinced, with only three individual responses and one from the Lib Dem group to a question from the Oxford Mail asking them if she had their full support.

We asked all 63 elected members of Oxfordshire County Council if Ms Simons – who earns £217,640 including salary, pension contributions and possible bonuses – had their full support and whether she should return any severance payment when she steps down.

Councillors voted to make her position redundant from June last month, which would have seen her receive a payout of almost £600,000, but the decision was last week put under review by council leader Ian Hudspeth.

A statement from the Lib Dem group said Ms Simons should “give serious thought to her position”.

It added: “Any redundancy payment would be linked to that [the redundancy] decision and not to any decisions made as a result of the Serious Case Review.”

Independent councillor Neville Harris said: “The overwhelming majority of people are appalled, horrified and sickened by the continuing revelations of depravity on a global scale.

“That said a great many committed people are working hard to protect the vulnerable in our society.

“However, protecting reputations political or otherwise have no part to play in this process.”

Labour councillor Nick Hards said: “No and no.”