Our four-year fight to protect vulnerable girls in East Lancashire

Our four-year fight to protect vulnerable girls in East Lancashire

Our four-year fight to protect vulnerable girls in East Lancashire

First published in Keep Them Safe campaign Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

THE problem of gangs of predominantly Asian men grooming underage girls for sex has just made national headlines.

But the Lancashire Telegraph first uncovered the issue in July 2006 with the launch of our Keep Them Safe Campaign.

Our initial investigation revealed up to 100 East Lancashire girls, aged between 12 and 16, had been targeted by the gangs.

Typically the victims were found to be vulnerable and often went missing from home or care.

First they were showered with gifts and attention.

Then they were given drink and drugs, and then forced to perform sex acts, sometimes on up to 10 men a night.

Speaking at the time, editor Kevin Young said: “We are calling on the whole of the community to get behind this cause and stamp out this sickening practice.”

Keep Them Safe’s aims included raising awareness of the issues, lobbying the government for funding to tackle the problem and increased education of the dangers in schools.

It was backed by the police, social services, children’s charities, community leaders and parents of victims.

Muslim leaders praised the Lancashire Telegraph’s ‘brave decision’ to report on the issue, and said the community was working very hard to tackle the problem.

At this time police were in the early stages of running Operation Engage, their crackdown on the gangs.

Speaking in 2006, then Superintendent Neil Smith said: “This is not a racist issue.

"It is about the exploitation of young girls for sex.

“The majority of cases involve Asian males but there are also a significant proportion of cases involving white men using the internet.”

Since those early days, Engage has grown to become one of the most groundbreaking in the country.

The Lancashire Telegraph helped arrange a conference into the issue in 2007 which saw a clear strategy drawn up between difference agencies.

Months later in March 2008 Engage was re-launched as a full-time body involving police, social services, health groups and children’s charities.

They work together to provide a holistic approach.

Sex offenders are tracked, abused girls offered extensive support and potential victims given guidance to keep them out of the clutches of perverts.

Parents are even given support, while lessons are run in schools to educate youngsters on the techniques of the gangs.

While initially run in the policing division covering Blackburn, Darwen and Hyndburn, a similar project called Operation Freedom was later launched in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.

Both schemes have been a massive success, but what they have uncovered has been shocking.

Last year police revealed that the Operation Engage team had worked with 385 girls since its March 2008 launch.

One victim was a young as nine, although the typical age range is 13 to 15.

Before Engage just one sexual grooming prosecution had taken place in the area. By last year the total was up to 62.

These include Imran Pervez, 27, of Pendle Street, Accrington, who was jailed for nine years in April 2009 for the rape of a 12-year-old girl.

While those charged were predominantly Asian, there have been a couple of cases involving white offenders.

And, as police tackle the gangs, they find the abusers alter their approach.

Recent fears have included girls being lured to ‘paedophile parties’, where they are abused by a number of men.

Nationally the country is just waking up to the problem.

Some media outlets are claiming that police have turned a blind eye to the crime because of political correctness.

But that is thankfully not the case in East Lancashire.

However, the sheer scale of the problem in this area means there is still much work to do.

Comments (5)

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11:58am Mon 10 Jan 11

wing commander bomber harris says...

hopefully now that this has been made 'nationally aware', the tories will put resources available to stop this. Oh, but it's happening in the North so they won't care. Ah well, never mind.
hopefully now that this has been made 'nationally aware', the tories will put resources available to stop this. Oh, but it's happening in the North so they won't care. Ah well, never mind. wing commander bomber harris
  • Score: 0

1:55pm Mon 10 Jan 11

halfhearted says...

The LET is to be congratulated on highlighting this prblem four years ago,but I note your headliner included the words 4 year fight.
Yes the appropriate authorities were aware of these offences many years before and chose not to act upon the information at hand.
If you hadn't been brave enough to bring this to the publics attention how far would the authorities got with their enquiries.
Both the Police and the Social Services had been made aware of what was happening with young girls in care many years before and chose to sweep the matter under the carpet instead of acting on the information at hand and setting up an investigation then.
If questions were to be asked why at this point all you will receive are the words 'LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED' how many times have we heard that one.
All I can say is I hope they have.
The LET is to be congratulated on highlighting this prblem four years ago,but I note your headliner included the words 4 year fight. Yes the appropriate authorities were aware of these offences many years before and chose not to act upon the information at hand. If you hadn't been brave enough to bring this to the publics attention how far would the authorities got with their enquiries. Both the Police and the Social Services had been made aware of what was happening with young girls in care many years before and chose to sweep the matter under the carpet instead of acting on the information at hand and setting up an investigation then. If questions were to be asked why at this point all you will receive are the words 'LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED' how many times have we heard that one. All I can say is I hope they have. halfhearted
  • Score: 0

3:50pm Mon 10 Jan 11

Tom_Roberts says...

It concerns me that your article gives the impression that the Lancashire Police have done a 'sterling job' on this grooming issue.

Nothing is further from the truth.
As you well know at the LET, the Lancashire Police were FORCED to take action, when a parent whose daughter being groomed contacted the LET, having got nowhere with the Lancashire Police. Action was initiated by a meeting between a LET journalist and a Lancashire Police Press Officer, as well you are aware at LET.

I can tell you from my own experiences, well documented, and soon to appear on video, that the Lancashire Police were deliberately obstructive when asked for statistical information on this matter. In fact, because I requested this information I was called a 'trouble causer' - again written evidence that I have in my possession.

Worse than that, I have written evidence that the Lancashire Police did not collate information recorded by incidents of apparent grooming, and issued numerous 'warning letters' when cautions would have been more appropriate.
I consdered the Lancashire Police either incompetent or delberately apathetic during my dealings with them, but certainly obstructive.

It makes me sick to the back teeth to see the Lancashire Police fronting their 'success' with the smiling photogentic face of one of their officers, while at the time grooming was taking place to their knowledge they 'pussyfooted' about with asians sitting in cars and driving around the back streets of Blackburn.

The first sentences by the smiling Spt Smith tells me all I need to know about the attitude of the Lancashire Police -

"This is not a racist issue.
It is about the exploitation of young girls for sex. "

And that has been the problem all the way along with the Lancashire Police - sweep it under the carpet because the Pakistani Community are involved and racial problems maay be highlighted.

Well Spt Smith, the STATISTICS show that it IS a problem which has ethnic components involved, however much you wish to smirk your way into denial.
It concerns me that your article gives the impression that the Lancashire Police have done a 'sterling job' on this grooming issue. Nothing is further from the truth. As you well know at the LET, the Lancashire Police were FORCED to take action, when a parent whose daughter being groomed contacted the LET, having got nowhere with the Lancashire Police. Action was initiated by a meeting between a LET journalist and a Lancashire Police Press Officer, as well you are aware at LET. I can tell you from my own experiences, well documented, and soon to appear on video, that the Lancashire Police were deliberately obstructive when asked for statistical information on this matter. In fact, because I requested this information I was called a 'trouble causer' - again written evidence that I have in my possession. Worse than that, I have written evidence that the Lancashire Police did not collate information recorded by incidents of apparent grooming, and issued numerous 'warning letters' when cautions would have been more appropriate. I consdered the Lancashire Police either incompetent or delberately apathetic during my dealings with them, but certainly obstructive. It makes me sick to the back teeth to see the Lancashire Police fronting their 'success' with the smiling photogentic face of one of their officers, while at the time grooming was taking place to their knowledge they 'pussyfooted' about with asians sitting in cars and driving around the back streets of Blackburn. The first sentences by the smiling Spt Smith tells me all I need to know about the attitude of the Lancashire Police - "This is not a racist issue. It is about the exploitation of young girls for sex. " And that has been the problem all the way along with the Lancashire Police - sweep it under the carpet because the Pakistani Community are involved and racial problems maay be highlighted. Well Spt Smith, the STATISTICS show that it IS a problem which has ethnic components involved, however much you wish to smirk your way into denial. Tom_Roberts
  • Score: 0

11:55pm Mon 10 Jan 11

bankhall says...

the let in open debate lol thatss a real laugh.You try getting a letter published in the rag which disagrees against the police or the papers ideas you have no chance.Also anyone who posts something on here they dont like it is deleted.
the let in open debate lol thatss a real laugh.You try getting a letter published in the rag which disagrees against the police or the papers ideas you have no chance.Also anyone who posts something on here they dont like it is deleted. bankhall
  • Score: 0

11:12am Wed 12 Jan 11

supportin op engage team says...

these disgusting asain men need sorting out they may have a culteral need to do these horrid crimes but they need to be told that this is not allowed in this country or they will be punished (btw i think the punishment queiser naveed and kulfar hussain was way to short) . these boys and men need quick hard punishments and to be named and shamed . i will help the engage to catch these disgusting people who think they are the best thing since sliced bread which believe you me they are FAR from that . i was once a victim of this crimes and they tried to ruin my life and turn me against everyone but them. i kept strong and eventually so them for what they really are dirty, scum, rapists,disrespectfu
l, filth of this earth need to all be locked up OR SENT PACKING blackburn need to sort this out its absolutely appalling ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW !!!!!!!
these disgusting asain men need sorting out they may have a culteral need to do these horrid crimes but they need to be told that this is not allowed in this country or they will be punished (btw i think the punishment queiser naveed and kulfar hussain was way to short) . these boys and men need quick hard punishments and to be named and shamed . i will help the engage to catch these disgusting people who think they are the best thing since sliced bread which believe you me they are FAR from that . i was once a victim of this crimes and they tried to ruin my life and turn me against everyone but them. i kept strong and eventually so them for what they really are dirty, scum, rapists,disrespectfu l, filth of this earth need to all be locked up OR SENT PACKING blackburn need to sort this out its absolutely appalling ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW !!!!!!! supportin op engage team
  • Score: 0

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