Rise in child sex abuse cases in Blackpool

The highest number of children removed from a Hartlepool mum is three.
The highest number of children removed from a Hartlepool mum is three.
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The number of child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases reported to police in Blackpool rocketed by 17 per cent last year.

Police dealt with 295 referrals between April 1, 2015, and March 31, 2016 - up from 252 the year before, and 248 in 2013/14.

A police spokesman said: “Child sexual exploitation is one of the constabulary’s top priorities.

“It’s vital we prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place rather than responding when it’s already too late.

“Services in touch with families, within health, social care, and education, need to work together proactively to identify signs of abuse and protect children.

“We take all allegations extremely seriously and we would encourage people with any information about the sexual abuse of children, or anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse to come forward and report their concerns, confident in the knowledge it will be investigated appropriately and sensitively.”

Blackpool was dubbed a child sex abuse ‘hotspot’ by Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard in 2011, when the government announced new measures to tackle the crimes.

And today he said: “For too long those who suffered sexual abuse have done so in silence. Abuse destroys lives, it takes away innocence, crushes childhood, and leaves a scare for life in many.

“It is indeed saddening to know that Blackpool is still a hot spot. What I hope is that the culture of fear and secrets is finally ending, that those is responsibility are better at detecting, and those in authority are more willing to listen to victims.

“We are seeing an increase in cases going to court, and I hope that this reflects an increase in reporting, and not an increase in instances of this horrendous crime.”

A task-force involving police and social workers — dubbed Operation Awaken — was also launched after 14-year-old Charlene Downes disappeared in 2003.

She is feared to have been murdered after being sexually abused in the resort.

Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the crime, which left the resort shocked.

But Awaken has led to numerous perverts being jailed, and officers on the team continue to work with different organisations around the world to help victims escape their abuse.

And last year, taxi drivers cross the Fylde coast were given courses on how to spot abuse following a report into the Rotherham abuse scandal, which found drivers played a ‘prominent role’ in ferrying victims around the town for almost 20 years.

Those who refused to attend the 30-minute training session, or who showed ‘a complete lack of understanding’ were told they’d be taken off the road.

Plans to work with bus and tram drivers, and the hotel and leisure industry, were also being put in place.

Signs a child could be being exploited include receiving unexplained gifts or money, using their phones secretively, having significantly older friends, skipping school, self-harming, and hanging around with others known to be vulnerable or involved in exploitation.

Those most at risk include those coming from a chaotic background or with a history of abuse; those without many friends; who are confused about their sexuality; have learning difficulties or have recently lost a loved one; and those who are homeless or living in residential care, a hostel, or bed and breakfast.

Anyone with concerns can contract Operation Awaken by calling (01253) 477 261.

The leader of Blackpool Council said he hopes the increase in child sexual exploitation cases is a sign youngsters are more willing to ‘speak out’.

Coun Simon Blackburn’s comments came as it was revealed the cost of looking after vulnerable children in Blackpool has already spiralled £2million above budget.

That’s despite an extra £500,000 being put into spending for the town’s children’s services department this year.

The extra cash has been used to fund senior social workers and an analyst to investigate underlying problems which have led to an increase in the number of children in Blackpool being taken into care.

But with more youngsters needing support for serious issues, such as alcohol and drug problems and sexual abuse, it is putting more pressure on the department.

The cost of accommodating a single child in a secure children’s home is around £180,000 — or £500 per day.

The number of children in care dropped to around 435 in recent years, but has now rocketed to just under 500.

Coun Blackburn said: “We tend to blame the situation on transience, and that is an issue, but figures show 75 per cent of the children being looked after are actually Blackpool born and bred.

“There is an issue with families moving around frequently from place to place within the town, and with every move they change doctor, school, or social work team, and so whatever relationships they have break down.

“We know the police and hospital are also under pressure and the issues are much more profound at a younger age, with more 16 and 17-year-olds with bad alcohol and drug problems.

“I think there may be a wider crisis in society that is manifesting itself in children’s social care.

“Is it people living in poorer housing conditions, incomes getting lower, they can’t find work and are not feeling part of society, leading to a crisis of neglect and abuse?

“That’s why we have appointed an analyst to work out why this is happening and to look at court records, police statistics, and what is happening at A&E.”

Coun Blackburn added: “My hope is in relation to this sudden upturn in child sexual abuse and exploitation, we are more aware of it and that young people feel more able to speak out.

“These historic cases which are being investigate are giving people more confidence to speak up and see this is wrong.”