An international manhunt is today underway to track down suspected members of a Blackpool child sex abuse ring.
Six people have already been arrested as part of an ongoing probe into allegations that the gang repeatedly abused two young girls in the resort, The Gazette can reveal.
This is a protracted and complex investigation into allegations of serious sexual offences committed against young children and we are following a number of lines of enquiry
Detectives in the resort are working with police forces around the UK and abroad as they hunt more suspects, with one believed to have fled thousands of miles beyond Europe’s borders in a bid to escape arrest.
Five of the men and women arrested so far – suspected of offences including rape and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child – are from Blackpool, police said.
The sixth suspect is from Rotherham – although there is no suggestion of any links to the child sex abuse scandal in the town, which saw more than 1,400 youngsters abused over a 16-year period.
It is understood the probe is focused on allegations of abuse over a three-year period from 2010 to 2013.
The two alleged victims, aged seven and 10, at the centre of the investigation have been taken into care, police said.
The “complex” investigation only came to light after one of the suspects appeared in court to apply for his bail conditions to be changed.
Most of the arrests took place in July, police said.
It follows a number of high profile child sexual exploitation cases on the Fylde coast –including the murder of Blackpool schoolgirl Paige Chivers, whose killer was jailed earlier this year – and amid a steep rise in cases being reported to police.
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “This is a protracted and complex investigation into allegations of serious sexual offences committed against young children and we are following a number of lines of enquiry.
“While we have arrested several of those we believe are involved, there may be more offenders, including at least one whom we believe is abroad, and we are working closely with colleagues from other forces in this country and internationally to try and trace those people.”
Police have not confirmed how many suspects they are currently hunting.
• 52-year-old man and two women, both 31, all from Blackpool, were arrested on suspicion on engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child. One of the women is also suspected of causing a child to watch an image of sexual activity.
• 37-year-old man from Blackpool was arrested on suspicion of inciting a girl under 13 to engage in sexual activity.
• 39-year-old man from Blackpool was arrested on suspicion of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, inciting a girl under 13 to engage in sexual activity and rape of a girl under 13.
• 40-year-old man from Rotherham was arrested in his home town by local officers on behalf of Lancashire Police.
All have been released on bail pending further inquiries.