BLACKPOOL’S child sex abuse team have vowed to continue locking up dangerous perverts despite facing Government cuts. Lancashire Police expect to have to make savings of £43m out of its £300m budget over the next four years.
Staff behind the Awaken Project, which was set up in Blackpool in November 2003 following the disappearance of teenager Charlene Downes, say they “are under no illusion” there are tough times ahead but they are committed to convicting paedophiles as well as preventing child sex exploitation.
Andy Shackleton, Blackpool Council’s child care manager on the Awaken team, said: “We will continue, we will have to adapt like everyone else. We’re facing some reductions in terms of staffing and what we can do but we’re committed to making sure we’re still effectively protect young people.
“Everyone is looking at ways of delivering that service in the best way.
“We’re under no illusion of the pressures we’re facing in terms of money being saved.
“There’s been support and commitment for Awaken from the council and police over the years and we have a conviction success rate of 96 per cent.
“The model of working together has been a forerunner in abuse and child protection and we’re looking at whether the lessons learnt from co-working can be expanded in other areas.”
Although the team are reluctant to put a figure on how many children are “at risk” in Blackpool, the team - which involves police, education workers as well as social and health workers – has made 1,000 visits to homes following “expressions of concern” over the last five years.
Awaken staff insist Blackpool does not have a problem with gang street grooming – an issue recently thrust into the spotlight after former Home Secretary Jack Straw said some Pakistani men saw white girls as “easy meat”.
But the Awaken team say the majority of cases they come across involve lone, male paedophiles who target vulnerable families – often part of the resort’s transient population – as well as children online or young people who gather at honey pots such as piers and amusement arcades.
Det Insp Tony Baxter, who heads up the Awaken team, said: “The only way we will crack this is by getting children to recognise the risks.
“We try to get the messages out to care homes, parents, schools.
“As a result we get referrals from people, including victims’ friends, who may have noticed signs of grooming – their friend getting gifts from an older man or getting in taxi at 4pm and not returning until 10pm.
“The more we’re out there, the more we raise awareness, the more people will report.
“We don’t want paedophiles on the streets but the prevention side and education side is as important – you are taking away the opportunity to commit offences.”