PROTESTERS gathered in the pouring rain at a vigil in East Oxford to voice calls for an independent inquiry into Operation Bullfinch.

More than 20 people, including Labour MP Andrew Smith, stood outside East Oxford Health Centre in Manzil Way to invite members of the public to join them in discussing potential steps forward to see a future independent inquiry.

Co-organiser Nancy Lindissarne said a future meeting at the town hall in Oxford was agreed upon by protestors as a possible move.

Operation Bullfinch investigated how Oxford girls were subjected to years of sexual abuse by a grooming gang.

Seven men were jailed in 2013 for a total of 95 years for raping, grooming and prostituting the girls between 2005 and 2011.

A Serious Case Review, published this month, found organisations including Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council had missed opportunities to stop the abuse earlier. It was also revealed that up to 373 youngsters had been at risk of grooming in the county.

But campaigners claim it was flawed and there is a need for an independent inquiry because the information the review was based on came directly from police and the council.

Nancy Lindissarne, one of the co-organisers, said: "I think given that it is pouring with rain, the turnout is admirable.

"The people that have come are clearly very determined.

"We are now talking about a meeting at the town hall to ask the new government for an independent inquiry. We have been talking about it and it seems like a great idea.”

Andrew Smith, who is hoping to retain his Oxford East seat in the election and who called for an inquiry when the review was released earlier this month, said: “I very much welcome this grass roots initiative in support of an independent inquiry because even though we have had a serious case review that couldn’t investigate issues of culpability and no one has taken full and proper responsibility for what was a catastrophic failure to protect children in Oxfordshire.”

History student at University of Oxford Alice Freeman, 30, who lives in Jericho, said: “I support the case because I think there should be accountability.

"If people in power allowed these things to happen then there is a risk it will happen again. For the victims themselves, they need justice because they were really let down. I feel it has been swept under the carpet.”

History student at University of Oxford Will Searby, 20, who lives on Cowley Road, said: “I am here to make the point that child abuse has no place.

“I think we need to make the case that there is proper support for an independent inquiry.”

Mr Smith's calls at the time of the release of the Serious Case Review were not supported by any of his fellow Oxfordshire MPs.

Last week the county council’s performance scrutiny committee was told those responsible for a “systemic failure” to stop the sexual abuse of girls in Oxford have not been held to account.

Labour councillor John Christie added that the Serious Case Review published on March 3 did not achieve “justice and accountability” for the victims.

He put forward a recommendation to the committee that it should call on the county council’s cabinet to establish an independent inquiry.

In a statement read out at the meeting Mr Christie said: “The reasons for this failure need to be understood and those responsible need to be held to account. The victims of abuse and the Oxfordshire public are entitled to expect that accountability is established and justice is done.”

But Labour group leader and committee chairman, Liz Brighouse, stopped the discussion after one speaker and said it was not the committee’s role to make such a recommendation.

Mrs Brighouse said: “Looking at our remit as a performance scrutiny committee, the council has already accepted the findings of the serious case review.”

Lib Dem Janet Godden said: “I’m not sure what an independent inquiry would uncover that has not already been uncovered.”

Our top stories