EARLIER this year I concluded two cases against Oxfordshire County Council involving victims of the Bullfinch cases.

As you will recall, in May 2011, there was a police investigation into organised sexual exploitation of children in care in Oxfordshire between. The earliest offences took place in 2004 and the last in January 2012.

It was thought that the group of men involved had recruited more than 50 child victims and Eventually convictions were secured against the key perpetrators and some of their associates with a total of seven men being found guilty of a total of 59 offences against six victims in a trial that lasted almost five months. Five of the six victims were in the care of the county council.

The majority of the events took place when the victims were aged 11-15. The perpetrators were sentenced to a total of 95 years imprisonment including five life sentences.

I commenced civil proceedings against Oxfordshire County Council on behalf of two of the victims in May 2015. The claims against the county council involved not only the issues that arose specifically from the Operation Bullfinch investigations, but also pre-dated this period when both victims were still young children. The claim against the county council was that it had failed to protect the children, safeguard and promote their welfare and prevent them suffering ill treatment or neglect.

The council had a duty of care to take reasonable steps to protect the children from physical and psychiatric injury, to safeguard or promote their development, at all times, to provide a competent and suitably qualified experienced social worker to monitor their physical and psychological welfare, and to safeguard and promote their welfare.

We alleged that in both cases the council had breached its duty and as a result both children suffered significant sexual and emotional abuse.

Crucial opportunities were missed by the county council, which could have led to an effective intervention taking place, which likely would have prevented their sexual exploitation. These failings were numerous. In both cases there were failures to investigate earlier claims about physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect.

The Serious Case Review (SCR) into Child Sex Exploitation in Oxfordshire approved by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board on 26 February 2015, confirmed the failings and the county council duly apologised. The SCR was not concerned with the period when the girls were young children.

These girls suffered significant psychiatric injury, including conduct disorder, post traumatic stress, and alcohol and drug dependence and significant self harm. What they went through was truly horrific. Their life time opportunities were drastically affected. Their education, health and development had been hampered and both had seen their potential severely compromised when it came to confidence and self esteem and ability to earn at the best possible level.

The people who bore the main responsibility for this were the perpetrators. These men, however, are in prison and have no significant assets to satisfy any civil claim. The girls were badly let down by Thames Valley Police Force. Unfortunately, the Police have immunity from civil claims in cases of this nature. Whether that position changes in the future as result of The Hillsborough inquest remains to be seen.

The claims against the county council were for compensation. The council initially defended the cases largely on the grounds that there was, at the time the abuse took place, a lack of understanding at a national level about child sexual exploitation and there were no steps they could reasonably have taken which would have prevented the abuse.

Thankfully, the cases concluded last month. I am not at liberty to disclose the details of the settlement, save to say that it was a six-figure sum in respect of each claimant. The payments were made without admission of liability.

The girls’ anonymity is protected. One of the girls was, however, prepared to release the following statement, “I am glad and relieved that it is all over. Finally, after three years, I can move on with my life.”

One has to hopes that lessons have been learned.