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Police uncover Lancashire 'paedophile parties'
A MAJOR investigation into girls being groomed for sex by older men has uncovered disturbing ‘paedophile parties’ in Lancashire.
The victims, aged as young as 12, are often forced to have sex with a number of men at the gatherings.
And many have been brainwashed into believing they are doing the sickening acts as favours, police said.
The shock findings were uncovered by the Operation Engage team, which was launched four years ago as the Lancashire Telegraph’s Keep Them Safe campaign first highlighted the problem of gangs grooming girls for sex.
The Lancashire Telegraph investigation revealed fears that a network of predatory men were plying girls with alcohol and drugs and bribing them with gifts in return for sex.
Officers said they had now received ‘sporadic’ reports of girls being taken to parties and abused by a number of men.
Detective Sergeant Mark Whelan, who leads the team, said this represented ‘trafficking’.
He said: “We see children being taken to Blackpool, Burnley, Preston and Manchester.
“The girl is at a house party, thinking she’s with her boyfriend.
"But while she’s there, he might ask her to have sex with a friend.
“She’s performing sex acts for favours, but thinks she’s protecting the man she loves.
“It is not really about a group of old men waiting for a child to be delivered to them.
“The much greater majority is children picked up, taken to a party or a ‘pad’ and while there, they may be abused.
“Children are being groomed into having sex with a paedophile. That’s the bottom line.”
The Engage team was launched as the Lancashire Telegraph’s Keep Them Safe campaign highlighted the problem of girls being groomed for sex by older men.
The team, which is a partnership of police, social services, health groups and children’s charities, specialises in tracking down offenders who groom teenagers for sex, and offers support and protection to the victims and their families.
Operation Engage is now a respected nationwide authority on child sexual exploitation and in the wake of a disturbing report from charity Barnado’s, Det Sgt Whelan lifted the lid on the local picture.
The ‘Whose Child Now?’ report released last week was critical of local authorities failing to provide specialist services for victims of child trafficking.
But members of the Engage multi-agency team claim they are already aware of the emerging underground trends highlighted by concerned experts.
Det Sgt Mark Whelan said so-called ‘paedophile parties’ and ‘child trafficking’ are happening in the area, but in ways the public might not immediately recognise.
He said the Barnardo’s report brought up ‘legitimate concerns’ about paedophile trends, but insisted through Operation Engage, Blackburn with Darwen is leading the fight.
Det Sgt Whelan said: “Prosecution statistics don’t fully reflect the level of work which goes into tackling the trafficking of local kids.
“Are we displacing offenders? No, we are arresting them.
“If we know that children are taken or trafficked out of town for sex, we will find the offenders.
“They blame themselves, not realising they’ve been groomed and thinking they are the architect of their own downfall.
“We want to try and catch the lot.”