HALF-a-million pounds is to be spent on targeting organised gangs of paedophiles following the discovery of a suspected Oxford child sex ring.

Despite a climate of budget cuts, Thames Valley Police wants the money to “pursue aggressively” gangs that prey on children.

It comes after 16 people were arrested and six charged over an alleged city abuse network involving as many as 50 girls earlier this year.

This is the first time money has been specifically allocated for child exploitation, which covers a range of offences such as grooming and films and pictures of sexual abuse.

Chief Constable Sara Thornton, left, said the money would be spent in an 18-month period between now and 2014, on a range of initiatives.

More cash will be provided for police overtime and on employing retired officers.

An investigations manager will be appointed and outside firms will be hired to work on hi-tech investigations including analysis of suspects’ computers.

Increased funds will not apply to any specific geographic areas, but will be available for policing teams to access when investigating suspected child exploitation.

The increased funding comes at a time of cuts to other aspects of the force’s policing operation.

In April the force announced cuts to the hours at many of its Oxfordshire stations in a bid to to save £600,000.

The exploitation funding was approved at a meeting of the Thames Valley Police Authority.

Ms Thornton said:“Such is the scale of the challenge we would ask you provide £500,000 over an 18-month period.”

She insisted child exploitation was already a key priority for the force but the cash would speed up investigations.

She said Operation Bullfinch began in May last year and led officers to look into the Oxford case.

Asked whether spending was as a direct result of Bullfinch, she said: “I’m a police officer. All I know is we are gathering more and more information, intelligence, which we’ve began to investigate more fully to get a better picture of what’s gone on.

“One of the problems can often be that young people who are victims often don’t even realise they are victims to begin with.

“It requires very sensitive and careful handling to try to gain the confidence of young people who have been treated badly.”

Caroline Shephard, campaigns officer for the Oxford Community Against Trafficking (Oxcat) group, welcomed the spending.

She said: “Recent cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

“Oxcat would applaud Thames Valley Police for making these funds available for what we would consider to be imperative work.”

In the 12 months from April 2011, 26 cases of sexual activity involving a child under 13 and 40 involving a child under 16 were recorded in the county, and one case of sexual grooming.

Police authority member Anthony Stansfield said the force is having to “clear up the mess” left by abuse.

He said: “I hope the councils will mirror this and put the effort into social services in this particular issue, that they will put their money in.”

The police will be working with the county council in the drive against child exploitation.

County council Tory Kieron Mallon, who has not ruled himself out as a potential candidate for the role of Thame Valley police crime commissioner, said the authority is “one of the few” to restrict movements of children in care to protect them.