LANCASHIRE police’s public protection boss is not surprised by a new report revealing that thousands of children are sexually abused by gangs in England each year.

Det Supt Ian Critchley said the force and councils had been tackling the problems highlighted in yesterday’s study by the Children's Commissioner for years.

The document: “I thought I was the only one — the only one in the world” identifies 2,409 victims in 2010/2011 and another 16,500 children at “high risk”.

It follows the jailing in May of nine Asians for sexually exploiting white girls in Rochdale.

Figures released in September showed 10 youngsters a week at risk of sexual exploitation were reported to police in East Lancashire.

Locally Operation Engage, a partnership organisation which tackles child sex abuse, has in recent months underlined that most sex crimes are committed by the white population.

But critics of the report say it has played down the role of Asian gangs in the specific sex crime of on-street grooming.

Det Supt Critchley said: “This is a serious problem we have been aware of for more than seven years..

“It is about preventing grooming and child sexual abuse, horrendous crimes, and prosecuting those responsible.

“We recognise that some gang grooming involves Asian/Pakistani males and we work with communities to educate and prevent this. Children in care are some of the most vulnerable and they are targets — but not the only targets.

The Government questioned the “hysterical” report, but author Sue Berelowitz said it was a comprehensive study to be taken “very seriously.”

Blackburn with Darwen council children’s chief Maureen Bateson said: “We have done a lot of work over a number of years to tackle this awful crime. We can build on that. We must never lose sight of the importance of this issue. We must all be able to spot the signs of child sexual exploitation.”

Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board chairman Nigel Burke said: “We are aware of the report and will consider it carefully to see if there are specific ways in which we can improve how we do things.”

  • VIDEO: Interview with Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner