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Nervousness about race “led to a reluctance to police parts of Wellington”

An independent inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Telford has found West Mercia Police allowed a nervousness about race to become prevalent among officers.

The inquiry, chaired by Tom Crowther QC, identified “shocking” police and council failings as more than a thousand children were sexually exploited across a 30 year period. 

Several elements were identified as having contributed to this failure to investigate, including a focus on abuse within the family at the expense of extra-familial exploitation, a culture of not investigating what was seen as “child prostitution” (a term then used in legisation), as well as concerns over inflaming racial tensions during the 1990s and early 2000s. 

A number of events, including the shooting of a 24 year old black man by West Mercia Police in 1991 as well as local criticism directed towards an investigation into the suicide of a black door supervisor Errol McGowan in 1999 had led to racial tensions in the area. 

The inquiry heard evidence from one police witness who suggested that a case was “dropped like a hot potato” once it became too difficult in light of the racial tensions. 

Further evidence suggested that there was a practice of the force allowing members of the Pakistani community to use the police car park, one witness suggesting this was to “pacify” the community. 

There was also one officer who served in the 1990s who said : “You would not walk down Regent Street.., it was mainly being taken over by Pakistanis and Indians… you wouldn’t walk down there in daylight, on your own, as a uniformed policeman… they bloody hated us.”

While conflicting evidence said that ‘no-go’ areas did not exist for WMP, the chair concluded: “I have heard so many officers recognise the concept of a ‘no-go area’ that I am quite sure that was how the locality was perceived among officers; that sort of perception creates its own reality.

“I have heard evidence from more than one officer who recalled how they strode purposefully up and down Regent Street to break the mould; clearly a mould had been forged. 

“It is an obvious conclusion that any police force which allows such a situation to develop is failing the community.”

This was not however labelled as corruption, but rather a development of bad culture and practice. 

He said it was also the case that certain decisions to investigate intelligence or complaints had been influenced by assumptions about race. 

“It would, of course, be nonsense to suggest that considerations of race and ethnicity should play no part in policing a community with a large population of a particular racial or ethnic group,” Mr Crowther said. 

“But for those considerations to lead to a situation where certain streets are not patrolled, or where certain crimes are not investigated, is a dereliction of the police’s most basic duty.” 

The inquiry underlined they have seen no evidence to suggest any “preferential treatment or inaction” continues today. 

However, the absence of police action was found to have “emboldened” offenders and this attitude was described as the “most obvious explanation” for the failure to investigate both intelligence and allegations of CSE. 

Suspects identified did come from all races, but the inquiry underlines that a high proportion of cases disclosed involved perpetrators that were described by victims as being “Asian” or “Pakistani”. 

It was not only WMP that was found to have been affected by these concerns, however. In May 2006, a complaint included allegations of council racism over the taxi licensing department and asian drivers. 

It sparked the shut down of enforcement to wait for the report from an independent inquiry - the chair understood that there was a consequent instruction not to refuse or revoke any licences under delegated authority. 

A member of the Licensing Team said: “We carried on doing enforcement but it was introduced slowly in the night-time economy, not nearly as pro-active as we had been or reactive I should say to intelligence, like plying for hire etc.” 

 The “disastrous” council decision  to suspend taxi licensing enforcement was also “borne entirely out of fear of accusations of racism”, the inquiry said. 

The inquiry explained how children were brainwashed for years by men who gifted them alcohol, cigarettes and issued death threats – citing the murder of Lucy Lowe – if they tried to break free from the abuse.

The men, often taxi or food delivery drivers, would meet young girls on the street and persuade them to become their “girlfriend” in what was described as the “loverboy” method of sexual exploitation.

Children would be “pimped” out and taken to rooms in nightclubs, restaurants and takeaways and there was also evidence of a “rape house” in Wellington.

47 recommendations have been issued as a result of the inquiry and both the police and the council have apologised. 

Assistant Chief Constable Richard Cooper said: “While there were no findings of corruption, our actions fell far short of the help and protection you should have had from us, it was unacceptable, we let you down.

“It is important we now take time to reflect critically and carefully on the context of the report and the recommendations that have been made.”

The council said it was working “very hard” to provide “the best possible support for victims of this crime” and accepted the inquiry’s recommendations, many of which it is already acting on.

But West Mercia’s police and crime commissioner John Campion said he could not say with “absolute certainty” that child sex abuse in Telford would never happen again, adding: “This report will no doubt have people questioning their confidence in policing.”

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