Child Sexual Exploitation Networks Report – Children Still Being Failed

The latest Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report has been published and is uncomfortable reading for many in authority, particularly in Tower Hamlets.

The IICSA, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, has heard evidence from 648 witnesses over four years, held 323 days of public hearings and disclosed 24,565 documents totalling more than 590,000 pages.

It was established in 2014 after hundreds of victims came forward reporting that they had been abused by Jimmy Saville.

The latest report overview can be found here and you can download the full report in PDF format here.

This particular report has looked at the sexual exploitation of children by organised networks. Other IICSA reports are also available for download.

It should be emphasised that Tower Hamlets has not been specifically singled out for criticism, it was one of six areas chosen for case studies by the IICSA, the others being Durham, Swansea, Warwickshire, St Helens, and Bristol.

Areas which had already been subject to independent investigation of cases of the sexual exploitation of children by organised networks such as Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford are not included.

“No organised networks here”

A ‘network’ was defined for the purposes of the investigation as “two or more individuals (whether identified or not) who are known to (or associated with) one another”.

In all of the six case study areas “police forces were generally unable to provide evidence about the extent of sexual exploitation by networks using the Inquiry’s definition, or indeed any other. Two of the areas (Swansea and Tower Hamlets) reported that there were no known or reported organised networks in their areas.”

Tower Hamlets told the Inquiry it had not identified any cases of sexual exploitation by networks, applying the definition of an organised criminal group, but then agreed that “just because we haven’t seen it doesn’t mean to say it’s not there”.

Some high-profile child sexual exploitation cases such as Rotherham and Rochdale have involved groups of South Asian males, leading to robust arguments as to if there is a link between ethnicity and group-based child sexual exploitation?

This is not a subject where political correctness can be allowed to interfere with the prevention of horrific abuse of children.

Lack of ethnicity data

Unfortunately the report says that a general lack of data on the ethnicity of perpetrators or their victims makes it extremely difficult to properly engage with this issue, fuels an often volatile debate and makes it almost impossible to confirm or deny a link.

The lack of data also “hampers the ability of police and other services to provide culturally sensitive responses, interventions and support.”

In 2019 ethnicity was not recorded for 86 percent of offenders in Tower Hamlets involved in 147 reports of child sexual exploitation and 14 percent of 166 victims of child sexual exploitation in the Central East Area BCU (Borough Command Unit).

In the same year the Metropolitan Police claimed that there was “no identified evidence of organised networks being investigated within this policing area currently.”

The reports states that Commander Sue Williams (in charge of Central East BCU at the time) explained that when looking at organised criminal networks, the force used the Serious Crime Act 2015 definition, that of Organised Crime Gangs (OCGs). On that basis, she said “what we have seen is a number of adults in various locations, but not necessarily seen as an organised criminal network”.

“…this cannot be right.”

The Metropolitan Police Service told the IICSA team that there were no cases or issues with child sexual exploitation by networks in Tower Hamlets, using the Inquiry’s definition of a network.

The IICSA coldly state that “given the breadth of the Inquiry’s definition of a network this cannot be right.”

Mr Richard Baldwin, Divisional Director for Children’s Social Care at Tower Hamlets, said that the local authority had not identified any cases of sexual exploitation by networks applying the definition of an Organised Crime Gang but if the Inquiry’s definition of an organised network was used, he considered that four operations within the borough at that time would fall under that definition.

Mr Baldwin agreed that “just because we haven’t seen it doesn’t mean to say it’s not there, and, clearly, we need to remain very open and alive to the fact that organised networks are, you know, an element of exploitation”

In April 2017, an Ofsted inspection of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets found its children’s social care to be “inadequate”, but since then a key element of the Council’s response has been to develop what it calls an “unrelenting focus” on audit, particularly of exploitation cases and the quality of children’s social care has significantly improved.

Tower Hamlets Council response

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council, said:

“We welcome the report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) which has highlighted areas for improvement, consistent with our desire to achieve the best outcomes for children.

We are pleased the report recognises that ‘the Borough has undertaken substantial work to address Ofsted’s 2017 finding that its children’s social care department was “inadequate”.’ Our “Good” Ofsted rating in 2019 highlighted ‘significant improvements’ made since 2017, including a ‘relentless focus to improve practice’, ‘skilled and committed staff’ and ‘strong partnerships to protect children from harm’.

We remain committed to continuous learning and improvement alongside nurturing strong, productive and positive relationships with our partners to uncover, manage and prevent the sexual exploitation of children everywhere, including in Tower Hamlets.”

The Council also said that Tower Hamlets Safeguarding Children Partnership (THSCP) maintains a focus on the exploitation of children as one of its top three priorities. The council is maintaining its funding for a dedicated exploitation team. We seek to be proactive in identifying exploitation wherever it happens and to protect children.

Ofsted recognised those improvements when judging our services to be ‘Good’ in 2019: (Page 5; Paragraph 14):

“Highly vulnerable children at risk of exploitation, including those missing from home, school or care, receive effective, bespoke services, delivered sensitively by skilled and committed staff. Strong partnerships serve to protect these children from harm. This is a significant improvement since the inspection in 2017.”

IICSA report (Page 182 Audit, review and performance improvement; Paragraph 73): “The Borough has undertaken substantial work to address Ofsted’s 2017 finding that its children’s social care department was “inadequate”.”

Enquirer View

Reading this report the key failing that jumps off the page is the competing definitions of the crime. It seems possible that in some instances this has led to the guilty remaining free and their victims continuing to suffer one of the most obscene forms of violence it is possible to inflict on children.

The IICSA defines a network as “two or more individuals (whether identified or not) who are known to (or associated with) one another”.

To the Metropolitan Police ‘networks’ means organised crime networks, using the Serious Crime Act 2015 definition of Organised Crime Groups which is a group which according to the Crown Prosecution Service :

  • Has at its purpose, or one of its purposes, the carrying on of criminal activities, and
  • consists of three or more people who agree to act together to further that purpose. 

(The full Serious Crime Act 2015 definition can be found here.)

Neither of these definitions is complex, leading the layperson to wonder why does it matter what these groups are called? People just want this type of offence to be stopped and the guilty punished.

Both the IICSA definition and the definition police services across the country use are very simple apart from the key difference that the purpose of an Organised Crime Group (or gang) is that the purpose of that type of network is ‘the carrying on of criminal activities’.

Organised Crime is as nasty and as sophisticated as crime gets. Its purpose is to generate cash through whatever crime is available and most profitable. The sole purpose of a child sexual exploitation network is solely child sexual exploitation , nothing else. Its members have a common perversion which is what creates the network in the first place and binds it together.

Contrary to popular belief neither an organised crime group gang member (literally a gangster) or a member of a child sexual exploitation network looks out of the ordinary. They just look like everyone else.

It is their deeds, usually carried out in secret, that mark them.

But there is a world of difference in detecting and prosecuting a group of men with very humdrum appearance whose activities are often very localised and do not stand out in their community or anywhere else and a group of men who, while still often of humdrum appearance, operate across national boundaries, generate huge sums of cash every day which needs to be laundered and hidden, will use extreme levels of violence, including murder, as just another tool of their trade and work with or eliminate rival gangs depending on what they consider is the best way to conduct their business, and have easy access to firearms. If caught they will have immediate access to the highest quality legal advice.

Many of those convicted of child sexual exploitation network in previous cases work in the night-time economy as taxi drivers or in takeaways to which young girls will gravitate, neither of these occupations being synonymous with organised crime members or with the display of significant wealth.

Those who undertake child sexual exploitation have the slightest regard for how society views them, let alone how their offences are defined by the law, by social services or the police.

The law, social services and the police need to put the niceties of crime definitions to one side and focus on the realities of preventing the evil of child sexual exploitation networks from forming and detecting and prosecuting those who have already joined with the devil.