Top cop: our fight against paedophile gangs is comparable to tackling organised crime
By Mark Conrad | 25 January 2013
Exaro can reveal the staggering figure after compiling details from police forces of what they consider to be “major” operations, meaning those using significant resources.
The research includes responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
Senior police officers say that greater resources are being spent on investigating such cases following a rise in allegations of sexual abuse of children carried out by gangs or groups.
These include groups that use alcohol, other drugs, cash or social standing to help them groom and sexually abuse vulnerable children.
Britain’s most senior officer in the field said that the kind of resources used to tackle such offences has become comparable to those devoted to investigating murders or serious organised crime.
The issue has soared up the policing agenda in the wake of ‘Operation Span’, an investigation into a child-grooming ring in Rochdale in Lancashire that has so far seen 10 men jailed, and revelations about sexual abuse of children by Jimmy Savile, the BBC presenter who died in 2011.
The Metropolitan Police Service last week confirmed that it had launched a full criminal investigation, called ‘Operation Fernbridge’, into allegations that many prominent people, including MPs, abused boys three decades ago at a guest house in south-west London.
The Met’s move followed a series of revelations by Exaro, which first disclosed the police’s initial “scoping exercise” into the allegations about Elm Guest House and a nearby children’s home in December and only last week tracked down a central figure to the case, whose home has been raided by police.
But the police force with the highest number of operations investigating child sex abuse is the Lancashire Constabulary.
A spokeswoman for the force said: “We are involved in investigations into child sexual exploitation on a daily basis.” She added: “We have intelligence on at least six groups.”
Eight police forces in total are leading multiple operations of this type. The other six are Greater Manchester Police, Northamptonshire Police, South Yorkshire Police, Suffolk Constabulary, Thames Valley Police, and West Yorkshire Police.
Hundreds of police officers are engaged with the operations, which are investigating allegations spread across urban and rural areas. At least six operations focus on historical allegations.
Exaro today publishes a comprehensive list of the 30 “major” operations confirmed by police forces. But 14 out of 43 forces in England and Wales failed to provide the details requested to Exaro, so the true figure is bound to be even higher.
The UK’s most senior police officer responsible for tackling child sex abuse, Peter Davies, said that Exaro’s research was in line with his understanding of the scale of operations.
Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the London-based police unit that works with forces throughout the UK to tackle sexual abuse of children, said: “It is certainly a figure that I recognise as being reflective of the situation. I think that it is indicative of a police service taking the issue very seriously.
“It indicates a trend that I have certainly noticed over the last two years, which is the application of the same capabilities, skills, and capacities as had hitherto been deployed on homicide or serious organised crime.”
He claimed that the police, along with local authorities and education bodies, had become more capable of fighting sexual abuse of children.
Davies, speaking in his capacity as head of child protection at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that the high number of operations did not necessarily mean that such offences had become more common.
“What you can certainly say, without a shadow of a doubt, is that some of it is because there is greater awareness of what is going on.
“Our ability to identify it, understand it and implement serious resources to mitigate risk is greater than it was even two years ago.”
“It is harder to say whether there was this volume of criminality and offending going on constantly previous to that.”
He added: “I am not trying to tell you that we have it cracked at all. There are loads of challenges.”