Up to 1,000 children could have suffered in Britain’s worst known abuse scandal – where sex gangs targeted girls as young as 11.
The rape hell of vulnerable young girls in one town – Telford – went on for a shocking 40 years, the Sunday Mirror can reveal.
As many as 1,000 children could have suffered at the merciless hands of perverts and torturers in Telford since the 1980s.
Girls as young as 11 have been lured from their families to be drugged, beaten and raped in an epidemic that, say victims, is still ongoing.
THREE people were murdered and two others died in tragedies linked to the scandal.
Despite similar high-profile cases in Rochdale and Rotherham, authorities in Telford repeatedly failed to stamp out a network of abusers.
The Mirror’s 18-month investigation reveals abuse on unprecedented levels. We found:
- Social workers knew of abuse in the 1990s but police took a decade to launch a probe
- Council staff viewed abused and trafficked children as “prostitutes” instead of victims, according to previously unseen files
- Authorities failed to keep details of abusers from Asian communities for fear of “racism”
- Police failed to investigate one recent case five times until an MP intervened
- One victim said cops tried to stop her finding out why her abusers had not been prosecuted because they feared she would talk to us
The scale of the abuse uncovered in Telford – population 170,000 – is feared to be the most brutal and long-running of all.
The Rotherham toll was put at 1,500 – but that was in a community of 260,000.
Telford’s Tory MP Lucy Allan has demanded a public inquiry and said our findings were “extremely serious and shocking”.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the abuse in Telford, please contact the Sunday Mirror: firstname.lastname@example.org
She said: “There must now be an independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Telford so that our community can have absolute confidence in the authorities.”
Specialist child abuse solicitor Dino Nocivelli, of Bolt Burdon Kemp, said: “These children were treated as sexual commodities by men who inflicted despicable acts of abuse.
“The survivors deserve an inquiry. They need to know how abuse took place for so long and why so many perpetrators have never been brought to justice.”
Our investigators have spoken to 12 victims, most of them unconnected.
They accused more than 70 abusers and claimed that violent rapes were still taking place just months ago.
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One 14-year-old, groomed and abused after her phone number was sold to paedophiles, said: “I hated what was happening and my abusers made my skin crawl but I was told that if I said a word to anyone they’d come for my little sisters and tell my mum I was a prostitute.
“Night after night, I was forced to have sex with multiple men in disgusting takeaways and filthy houses.
“I must have been getting the morning after pill from a local clinic at least twice a week but no one asked any questions.
“I fell pregnant twice and had two abortions. Hours after my second termination, I was taken by one of my abusers to be raped by more men.
“The worst moment came just after my 16th birthday when I was drugged and gang raped by five men.
“Days later, the ringleader turned up at my house and told me he’d burn it down if I breathed a word of what had happened.”
Documents which will be passed to the Home Office reveals authorities knew of the horrors a decade before investigating – and shows how they tried to hamper our probe.
We presented our findings to Professor Liz Kelly, from the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University.
She helped estimate the number of victims based on figures gathered by our investigators.
Prof Kelly said: “We are acting as if we didn’t know about child sex abuse rings. We have an unfortunate capacity to choose to forget.”
Sheila Taylor, of the NWG Network, worked on the Rotherham Inquiry. She said the true scale of the Telford problem might never be known because many victims were unlikely to come forward.
She said: “There is probably a whole cohort of young people that are not identified.
“We are good at identifying white girls but are less able to identify young men, young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, from travelling communities, or with learning or other disabilities.”
A police investigation called Operation Chalice identified more than 100 potential victims abused between 2007 and 2009.
Cops also said there could be as many as 200 perpetrators – but just nine were caged and the case was then closed.
Today our investigation reveals the authorities were told of the abuse epidemic more than a decade before Chalice.
Our probe – backed by documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – found two predatory paedophiles began targeting girls from a local children’s home in 1981.
One of the abusers earned thousands a night for years trafficking girls around the country for sex with hundreds of men, according to one victim.
In another case, a 14-year-old was groomed by an 18-year-old Asian man in 1985.
After she had his baby he passed her to friends to have sex with and allegedly rape her.
The girl, now 47, says she reported her abuse to the council and school but does not believe action was taken.
She says her doctor said she was mentally ill and should take medication.
The vast majority of those targeted were young white girls but teenagers from the Asian community also fell victim.
One report commissioned by local Telford and Wrekin Council in 2013 admitted: “From the late 1990s professionals had concerns about the nature of some of the child sexual abuse cases presented to them.”
But it blamed “understanding and learning at that time” and “existing procedures”.
Two separate investigations were launched at the same time as Operation Chalice after two victims named dozens more abusers.
The victim in one case – groomed at 13, sold for sex and gang raped – said she pulled out of the investigation because she “didn’t feel she was being emotionally supported” by police.
Another victim claims officers discouraged her from pursuing her request for evidence after she told them she was speaking to the Mirror.
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Victims: Five dead as abusers’ tentacles leave trail of pain and tragedy
A mum and four girls have died in tragedies linked to the abuse.
Lucy Lowe, 16, was killed in 2000 along with her mother and sister after her 26-year-old abuser Azhar Ali Mehmood set fire to their house.
Cabbie Mehmood targeted Lucy in 1997 and she was just 14 when she gave birth to his daughter.
He was jailed for murdering Lucy, her mum Eileen and 17-year-old sister Sarah.
But he was never arrested nor charged in connection with any child sex crimes over his illegal relationship with the schoolgirl.
Lucy’s death was used as a warning to other girls, according to victims. One, drugged and gang raped by nine men two years later, said the threats drove her to attempt suicide.
She said: “I was scared my family would die like Lucy’s. I thought they’d only be safe if I killed myself.”
In 2002, 13-year-old Becky Watson died in a car accident that was reported at the time as a “prank”.
The Mirror investigation found she suffered two years of abuse by an Asian grooming gang which began when she was just 11.
Tragic diaries obtained by the Mirror reveal her torment at being made to “sleep around”.
Her mum Torron Watson said she repeatedly told police that Becky was being abused – and even gave them a list of suspects.
She told the Sunday Mirror: “Girls like Becky were treated like criminals. I was crying out for help but it felt like I had nowhere to turn. If Becky’s abuse had been properly investigated by the authorities more girls could have been saved from going through this hell.”
Vicky Round, a friend of Becky’s, was abused by the same gang who got her hooked on crack cocaine aged 12 and on heroin by 14.
She died aged 20 of a drugs incident and her sister Emma told us: “I have no doubt Vicky would still be here if she hadn’t been so badly abused – yet the people who made her life hell still walk the streets.”
Telford timeline of abuse
Early 1980s Vulnerable Telford girls are targeted by groups of mainly Asian men.
1996 A concerned resident claims she tells police about the activities of a key abuser selling underage girls for sex.
Late 1990s Files reveal social workers learn of the problem but do little to help.
2000 Lucy Lowe, 16, is killed alongside her mum and sister in an arson attack by abuser Azhar Ali Mehmood, who made her pregnant at 14.
2002 Abuse victim Becky Watson, 13, is killed in a road accident described as a “prank”.
2009 Becky’s friend Vicky Round dies in a drugs-related incident after enduring nine years of sex hell at the hands of a string of paedophiles.
2010-2012 Police probe dubbed Operation Chalice identifies a potential 200 abusers but only nine are jailed. Two further probes collapse.
August 2016 The Sunday Mirror reports that the problem is continuing outside underage discos in the town but some complaints provided by volunteer street pastors are not properly logged.
September 2016 MP Lucy Allan calls for a public inquiry but police and council officials in Telford write to Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying this isn’t necessary.
March 2018 The Sunday Mirror reveals there could be up to 1,000 victims of the scandal and links five deaths to the abuse.
Response: These horrific crimes are a No.1 priority say police and council
Police and local authority chiefs yesterday said all reports of child sex exploitation were taken “extremely seriously”.
Martin Evans, Assistant Chief Constable for West Mercia Police, said: “We are aware of the information you have provided.
“Tackling such horrific offences is the number one priority for police in Telford and we have not only increased officer numbers to tackle this type of offending, but use all of our resources and technology available to prosecute anyone who sexually offends against children whether that offending took place today, yesterday or decades ago.
“Operation Chalice in 2013 was one of the first national complex critical investigations into grooming offences. It centred on historic offending in Telford and Wrekin and ultimately resulted in seven men jailed for a total of 49 years.
“Over the subsequent years we have continuously focused on this area, whilst working very closely with our communities to ensure there is confidence to report issues people become aware of. Last year officials from the Home Office paid thanks to the commitment of staff working to protect young people at risk from sexual exploitation.”
A spokesperson for Telford and Wrekin Council said yesterday: “Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a vile, evil crime. It’s an issue right across the UK and has been for a long time.
“Telford will be covered by the national CSE review. We welcome this. All agencies continue to work very closely together and this remains our top priority.
“Our approach to CSE is now very different from 10-20 years ago. We have learned lots of lessons and are constantly on the lookout for indicators of CSE so that we can pass information on to police and bring these evil criminals to justice. Indeed, further cases are now coming to court.”
An OFSTED inspection into Telford’s child services in 2016 said: “Work with children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation is very strong… work to protect children who go missing from home or care is thorough and improving.”