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David Greenwood’s notes of IICSA hearing on Child Sexual Exploitation by Organised Networks

IICSA CSE oral hearing

 

21st of September 2020 – 2nd October 2020

 

Alexis Jay gives the introduction

 

Henrietta Hill, counsel to the inquiry introduces the core participant representatives.

 

The investigation will look at first whether exploitation has been prevented, whether ch second whether children are being protected and third whether perpetrators are being disrupted.

 

CSE is a form of sexual abuse. The child receives something as a result of doing something for others. Networks involve more than one other person exploiting a child. Trafficking to exploit children is included in the definition. This investigation will be thematic. It will look at the practice of authorities today. It has chosen six geographical areas and then a number of children’s cases within those areas. We need to look at the nature and scale and whether there is a hidden problem.

 

CS-A317 was exploited from the age of 14. Staff in children’s homes were aware that she was being given alcohol and having sex with grown men. Staff colluded with perpetrators. She was violently raped at the age of 12. Police said she had consented as she had text messages with the perpetrators on her phone. She was subsequently contacted by the national crime agency. The national crime agency recognised CSE and the perpetrators have been investigated, charged, prosecuted and convicted and sentenced to 9 years imprisonment each. The first investigation was completely flawed and the police criminalised her rather than the perpetrators. In contrast she feels that the national crime agency team were very positive and sensitive to her needs but was disappointed that after the prosecution she was not so closely looked after.

 

CS-A372 was bullied at school and introduced to a male aged 30. He gave her gifts and required sex from her. The case was closed by social services. Police prosecuted the men but the charges were dropped. She was forced to have sex later with men also.

 

CS-A373 saw domestic violence at home, went missing and was taken in by a gang. She was raped. She told police that she had been raped and given cannabis. At the age of 13 she was hospitalised. Social services placed her in care and in different placements. She was moved out of the area between the ages of 14 and 16. She absconded with a man aged 26. She met another perpetrator who raped her but he was simply cautioned by police for underage sex. CS-A373 feels the police and social services had little or no empathy.

 

BBC file on four produced a programme called groomed, abused and put in prison. This featured a girl called Daisy from Rochdale who had been given drugs by men. The men were never arrested. She was arrested. She had been passed around for sex, became pregnant, had a termination and the police simply contact her to be a witness for another person in another trial.

 

Since 2015 CSE has been a national threat as declared by the government, causing police to be forced to spend more money on this threat. As at February 2020 more than 90 investigations into exploitation were ongoing.

 

The effects of abuse are long-lasting. The truth project has documented the problems include anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicide attempts, alcohol misuse, lack of trust, physical health implications, unexplained pregnancy and terminations. Prior to 2009 there was still reference to children caught in CSA being “child prostitutes”. Parents against child exploitation, formerly known as crop was founded in 1996 and recognised by then that children could be convicted of prostitution. Home Office research in 2004 recommended more prosecutions of men. Offences were created in the sexual offences act 2003 to protect children. There has been a growing recognition of the vulnerability of children between 2010 and 2016. Investigations in Telford, Oldham, Rochdale, Oxford and Peterborough have taken place. June 2013 saw the Home Office select home affairs select committee report into child exploitation. August 2014 saw the Alexis Jay report on the Rotherham scandal. October 2014 saw a report from Anne Coffey MP into CSE in Manchester. 2019 saw the introduction of the Home Office disruption toolkit and there have been other studies with the aim of educating and enhancing statutory authorities on how to deal with CSE.

 

The inquiry will look at themes which will be problem profiling and disruption, empathy and concern, risk assessment, missing children, male and disabled victims, partnership working and audits and improvement.

 

Do councils and police have up-to-date information on perpetrators in their area? Are police and social services wise to the danger of stereotyping the problem as Asian men and white girls? Is disruption effective?

 

Do children feel treated with empathy and respect? How are children treated by the system?

 

Are the risks of falling into CSE understood? Do templated tick box forms inhibit good risk assessment? Is there an Ince sufficient ability to use professional judgement?

 

70% of exploited children are originally classed as children missing from home. What is being done to recognise this? Are return home interviews carried out at the right time and is data collected well? Is the right data being collected? Are children in residential care being adequately protected? 8 percent of children in care are in unregulated placements. Many children are placed out of the area. Is there a recognition of male victims? Is there a recognition that some children have disabilities, often not visible? Is partnership working effective? Are audits being carried out properly and is the data gathered being fed back into the system to improve responses? Six geographical areas will be studied of the 172 Council areas and 43 police areas. The areas studied are Swansea, Tower Hamlets, Bristol, St Helens, Durham and Warwickshire. Opening addresses were delivered

 

Day two

 

CS-A12 was born in 1993. At age 7 her mother started to live with a new partner. This was okay at first but domestic violence started. Mum would drop the charges regularly. Mums mental health was affected and she attempted suicide, was diagnosed with psychosis and sectioned. Mum was also violent to A12. Social services were involved between the age of seven and 12. A12 feels mother was not supported enough or that she should have been removed.

 

A12 was eventually place in the children’s home she complains of not enough attention was paid to her. She was not given boundaries. She got a taste of going out and coming in late and repeated this behaviour. She was moved to a different home after three months which was situated in the worst area of the city. She was intimidated constantly by men out on the street outside the home. Almost all the girls in the home were exploited by males outside the home under the noses of staff. The homes she had to live in were in areas where gangs operated with knives, drugs and were committing sex crimes. A12 took three overdoses and self harmed. She was told by staff that she was attention seeking. She was in poor mental health, felt isolated and in hindsight feels that this pushed her towards her abusers. They made her feel like part of their family. There was no sympathy or hugs from staff. She was arrested multiple times for criminal damage at the home and felt it wasn’t safe. Her exploiters were the only ones who paid attention to her and gave her someone she could rely on.

 

She was often stopped by police in cars with older men and vodka. Police blamed her for causing breakdown in society and accused her of getting the men into trouble, calling her a child prostitute telling her that they had better things to do than to deal with her. Drivers and other men in cars were not questioned about her presence. On one occasion she was told that she had to wait outside in the middle of the night until 7 AM as staff would not allow her back into the children’s home whilst inebriated.

 

Care staff would speak to the men in the car’s would even way that the men. A12 admitted to having sex with men. Staff knew that she was being picked up on the road outside the home. She was threatened with being put into a secure unit and feels that the police missed many opportunities to arrest the men.

 

Staff were also whether she was having sexual relationship with a 17-year-old in the care home. She was going out to nightclubs from the age of 14. She was offered fake ID by bouncer and given ecstasy tablets. Spent a lot of time in one particular club. There were shootings in that area.

 

She was prosecuted at least 12 times, once for possession of a knife (the man exploiting her had actually possessed the knife). She was seen as a lost cause. Her daughter, born in 2009 was adopted because of A12’s involvement in exploitation. She was raped at age for age 15. She wrote reported this to staff at a refuge. The police were not called. Staff even helped pick out a Muslim style outfit to wear to an eid celebration hosted by one of her abusers.

 

There were many changes of social workers and five leaving care workers, 12 to 15 in total. At age 18 she stopped drinking and having contact with the abusers. She undertook cognitive behavioural therapy and stopped taking cocaine and alcohol.

 

She was approached three years later in 2012 to be a witness for another case. This prompted her to report her own experience to the police in 2013 with no response. She approached policea gain in August 2014 and eventually a trial took place in 2018 which took eight weeks. There was a mis-trial and then a second trial in February 2019. She gave evidence for a number of days in each of the trials. She found the experience horrible. One advocate was extremely aggressive and spoke to her like she was garbage. She had to go through it all again on the second trial there were 21 counts of rape against her. Her abusers were given a total of 302 years and will serve 132 1/2 years in total. She has spoken to other people and has prepared a report on her experiences and the experiences of 14 others in care in the area. She knows more than 50 others personally who have been through the same pattern through being in care.

 

Helen Beckett is and Sophie Hallett (both academics give evidence about data collection and definitions of CSE. Their conclusion is that victim blaming language is a barrier to young people talking about their experiences. They also conclude that risk assessments conflate risk and harm. They conclude that every child is at risk of CSE. They conclude that the hallmark of good practice is good communication with children. The well-being of children is to be the top priority.

 

Sheila Taylor, the head of the National working group based in Derby has worked CSE since 2005. She concludes that in consistency of approach around the UK makes it difficult to give a clear view on what works and what doesn’t work. She feels it is a postcode lottery. Successful areas tend to be driven by motivated individuals when those individuals leave effectiveness drops away.

 

Day three

 

John Pearce – Durham Council head of children’s services. Durham trains its staff on good use of language and avoiding victim blaming language. He agrees that concentrating on harm rather than risk would be a better approach to risk assessment. He agrees that risks are downgraded too quickly by social workers. His service operates a missing from home coordinator to ensure all return home interviews are carried out and are of high quality. He agrees that there are some gaps in data collection.

 

Michael Banks (Durham safeguarding children’s partnership) he agrees Durham is data rich but analysis poor. He agrees there is under recording of CSE in Durham. He agrees that audits have not been comprehensive in the past. His role is due to be replaced by an independent scrutineer. He believes that the safeguarding partnership in Durham is making changes which will benefit children in the future.

 

David Orford (Deputy Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary – a uniformed police officer with brown, thinning hair.

 

He agrees that data collection and analysis means the definitions of CSA and CSE makes it difficult to track trends in CSE. He agrees that the HM IC reporting to Durham found failings but emphasises Durham’s use of child abuse warning nortices in disruption. He agrees that use of language is important to get the best out of complainants he agrees that there are some deficiencies in this assessment but insists that Durham has improved its systems will now be mobile devices. This will deliver quick decisions. In 2019/20 921 missing persons were reported but only 111 missing person return home interviews were carried out. He emphasises the use of the Philomena protocol on combating CSE in residential settings.

 

Day four

 

Julie Thomas (Swansea Council) Swansea has adopted a document with guidance on alternative language to avoid victim blaming. She agrees it is difficult to find BAME social workers which can be important when responding to BAME children in CSE and getting the best evidence out of them and responding well. Swansea uses third sector organisations to help. She encourages the use of less victim blaming language. She agrees that the social services records examined are littered with unacceptable phrases such as ” this 13-year-old has had six sexual partners since the age of 11 years old” and “she is undertaking behaviour that is putting herself and family at risk of harm”. Mrs Thomas tends towards using management speak on expertise. There are a lot of acronyms, practice frameworks, collecting metrics, understanding lived experience, safety plans and practice standards. None of these explained in detail by her. There is little plain language from this witness.

 

One positive is the use of the sexual exploitation risk assessment form which allows practitioners to input their own views on what is happening in the child is background.

 

She confirms that Swansea avoids unregulated placements for 16 to 18-year-olds

 

Daniel Richards (south Wales police) – uniformed officer in late 40s shaved head.

 

There are no gang or CSE investigations currently ongoing in South Wales. There are  likely to be organised networks not yet discovered. Fewer reports of CSE are coming through to the police. It can be difficult to isolate cases of CSE from general exploitation such as county lines the police rely heavily on sharing information internally with partner agencies. South Wales police ensure that all recruits have training CSE advocates are also used to communicate with victims. Return home interviews are usually done by the police but if CSE is involved Barnardos are used to carry them out. More information gleaned from return home interviews could lead to good analysis of potential evidence and building up of patterns and evidence against perpetrators.

 

CS-A2 – is the mother of CSA1 who was groomed from the age of 11 1/2, missing school and sexually exploited, on drugs, mixing with adult males, been raped and the use of social media figured heavily. She complained of many late interventions by police and social services all in 2016 to 2017. Interventions were mostly ineffective. Procedures appear good but in practice they were not carried out. Risk assessment was late and was wrong. Police disruption was ineffective.

 

Day five

 

Nigel Minns (Warwickshire Council) – a non-descript besuited man

 

Warwickshire has a child centred approach avoiding victim blaming language yet many of the files produced to him demonstrate the use of outdated language. He acknowledges the system does not records CSE cases separately and accepts that the council gets risk assessment wrong. He blames shortage of foster carers and those specialised in dealing with teenagers and children with complex needs or disabilities. He says social workers find CSE work very difficult. He emphasises the ‘something’s not right” campaign in Warwickshire. He says that social workers in Warwickshire have an average of 17 to 18 cases and complexity varies.

 

Peter Hill (Warwickshire police) he is head of vulnerability and safeguarding in Warwickshire police. Police work collaboratively. He has a substantial team. He agrees that preventing CSE is very difficult due to getting best evidence interviews from children.

 

Day six

 

St Helens Council

 

Vicki McKenna (Catch-22) woman in 40s. Dark brown hair. Red blouse.

 

Catch-22 is a charity. They give their services to councils to look after missing persons. They also do training at schools and help children through the court process. Catch-22 collect data from return home interviews and intelligence is shared in the multi agency safeguarding hope each day. Catch-22 challenges victim blaming language. They also recognise that the ages of 16 to 18 are a very vulnerable age for children. Catch-22 other receive risk assessments from St Helens Council if the missing person is considered to be involved in CSE. Sometimes there is insufficient data to work adequately with that child. Part of Catch-22’s work is to build up trust with the child and parents numbers missing in St Helens a fairly stable at 700 per year. Catch-22 sees children within 72 hours of them returning home. There is a problem with lack of access to mental health services and she considers that not enough is being done to embed responses to CSE in the education system where children spend most of their time.

 

Jim levers (Helen St Helens local safeguarding children’s partnership – white hair, condescending manner, handkerchief in pocket

 

He agrees victim nlaming language is not appropriate and wants to avoid an Oxford, Rochdale or Rotherham situation in St Helens. He emphasises the pan Merseyside multiagency CSE protocol. St Helens operates a multi agency safeguarding hub with police, Council, health and third sector involved. He agrees that 84% of risk assessments were unsatisfactory in an audit in 2019. He does point out however that more return home interviews are done than previously but blames a lack of resources.

 

Ian David Critchley (Merseyside police) uniformed officer, very sharp.

 

He is an assistant chief constable of Merseyside police. He analyses the data provided well. Most perpetrators are white British. Most victims are white female. Most perpetrators are men. I operate a tool to track perpetrators. PCSOs are attached to each care home. There is a monthly central meeting he agrees they are not covering all perpetrators constantly but are learning every day. He agrees that the voice of the child is the most important thing he believes St Helens are much more rigourous than they were previously.

 

And evidence summary of Tower Hamlets cases is read out which demonstrates errors in risk assessments, case files being closed too early and some good examples of practice.

 

Richard Berwyn (Tower Hamlets Council) man in 60s. Smart. Smooth.

 

He explains the Tower Hamlets quantitative risk assessment form. He has a specialist child exploitation team which have regular meetings. They use the Home Office Home Office risk assessment toolkit a recent inspection showed 30% of cases were good, 20% were inadequate. They use an alternative way of categorising risk with levels one two and three. The top 20 CSE cases are discussed very regularly. Schools are encouraged to understand the risk assessments he agrees that it is better to discuss harm than to discuss risk.

 

Tower Hamlets have improved return home interviews. Ofsted have confirmed this improvement. Tower Hamlets try to keep looked after children within 20 miles of Tower Hamlets town Hall.

 

Sue Williams (met police) – curly hair brown

 

Hackney has criminal gangs but less CSE than Tower Hamlets. Online exploitation is the most common. Street CSE is also common, and then peer on peer exploitation is the least common type of sexual offending against children.

 

Timelines of children’s treatment by councils and police were read out.

 

Anne James (Bristol City Council)– woman in 50s. Short hair, spectacles and flowery blouse.

 

She is a qualified social worker and has been a senior management since 2011. She is now director of children and family services in Bristol. Bristol uses the CSE risk assessment toolkit designed to protect predict risk and harm. They aim to strengthen families early which reduces missing person episodes. This helps prevent problems rather than having to tackle them when it is too late. Bristol operates data tool which uses an algorithm based on risks and past date. It is reviewed regularly. It leads social workers and police to target cases.

 

Of the data collected to date of 400 children, 67% were white British. 59% were female 45% under the age of 15. They correlate with areas of deprivation. Some schools are more likely to be targeted by offenders than others. 99% 99 of the 400 most at risk are not in education or employment, their home address is in particular clusters, their age is similar and schools are similar. Their algorithm is around 80% accurate.

 

William White (Chief superintendent Avon and Somerset police – police officer in uniform. Man in 50s.

 

He has experience of sexual offences CSE. Police use data to profile offenders and risk most suspects are white European. Operation Brook in 2014 was a large investigation and used the resources similar to that of a murder investigation and has shaped the way they respond to CSE. They have moved on from a focus on prosecution to focus on disruption. Which provides the multi agency framework for responding to allegations of child abuse.

 

227,000 offences were recorded against children in 2019. The data collected gives trends HMIC say police are operating at capacity and this impedes best response to CSE. The recruitment of 20,000 police officers will help to solve the problem the Home Office’s definition is that CSE is able to take place where predators have access and believe they will be able to offend unchallenged.

 

No cultural ethnicity is likely to offend more than any other culture. The Home Office representative agrees that CSE is an under identified crime.

 

On disruption the Home Office are representative confirms that police have many powers to disrupt and emphasises the need to build trust with victims. Children working undercover are rare but they are sometimes allowed to work undercover by the law. A case in the Court of Appeal is currently going through. It is agreed that the licensing of taxis is a useful tool and ensuring that all taxi drivers have training on sspotting CSE should be built in. HMIC play a central role on maintaining consistent standards throughout police forces. All agree that third sector agencies have useful skills at communicating with victims. The Home Office representative agrees with the need to move away from a box ticking exercise on assessment of risk. Sources of funding can be departments of health, local government and PCC’s. No representatives comment on whether there should be a Minister for CSE.

 

Representatives from CQC, HMIC, OFSTED give evidence and state that there is often delay and drift by police and slow responses to children and families. Ofsted comment that third sector organisations are positive resources for communication with victims, police and local authorities. Widening the focus of county lines investigation can pick up CSE. The CQC representative emphasised the need is for GPs, A and E, ambulance services to be aware of the likelihood of CSE and there is a need to encourage a culture of awareness and prevention. HMIC again emphasise the fact that police are overstretched do not have enough resources. Ofsted emphasise varying practice in responses to missing persons.

 

Gregor or McGill (CPS) bald man with spectacles and a pinstripe suit. He is a director of the Crown prosecution service. The CPS computer does not hold data specifically on CSE. Child abuse warning notices are a useful tool in disruption. He denies a reluctance by the CPS to prosecute CSE. He says the problem is that the criminal justice system is adversarial. Cases can be strongly contested and cross-examination can be fierce, causing the system to be brutal. He supports the removal of convictions of children who committed offences whilst being exploited. The Crown Prosecution Service encourages prosecutors to challenge myths and stereotypes. The Crown Prosecution Service has built up specialisms throughout the austerity period.

 

Gill Gibbons (parents against child exploitation) woman in her 50s. Spectacles. Well spoken.

 

Her organisation supports parents and works with councils and police teams. She detects that language is changing but still hear subtle victim blaming language. She regularly has parents assumed to be the problem by local authorities and police. Parents expect honesty and respect but instead they tend to be seen as part of the problem. She wants to see parents seen as a vital partner in preventing CSE she thinks local authorities and police should look at the places children are going, the people they are mixing with and using their powers to disrupt abuse, working with families to identify all these factors.

 

She believes the social services child protection system has a problem at its heart which is that it is based on a model of abuse taking place in the home and parents being the problem. She explains the phenomenon of parents being threatened by perpetrators dedicated parent liaison offices are very effective in the seven areas in which PACE works. Involving parents in planning and managing risk reduces the length of missing episodes and can stop them altogether. It takes away from the child the feeling they are being punished. They are there to strengthen family rather than divide it.

 

Representatives from the Angelou Centre and Apna Haq centres these representatives conclude that women and girls have a lack of belief and trust. BAME families can through their culture instill feelings of shame and disrespect on victims of abuse. They point out institutional bias and discrimination causes an inability to for BAME victims to trust institutions. When a victim raises a cultural issue that is not understood well by police or social services police and social services tend to disengage rather than understanding the point of view. Adverse media coverage also creates a barrier.

 

End

 

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