POLICE have been accused of not doing enough to tackle Asian men who groom white teenagers into prostitution for fear of being branded racist.

National Muslim organisation the Ramadhan Foundation said that extremist political parties like the BNP benefit from the vacuum left when police and local authorities do not speak out on the issue.

And he said the while Lancashire Police was doing more than most to tackle the problem, their efforts were not enough.

But Lancashire Police have hit back at the claims, saying that the problem of grooming young girls by Asian men, particularly in the Blackburn area, is being investigated actively - and publicly.

The issue has been highlighted in the Lancashire Telegraph's Keep Them Safe campaign, which began in 2006.

And a new team of officers in Blackburn working on Operation Engage has been formed by the police, council, the Blackburn with Darwen Safeguarding Child-ren Board and other young people's organisations.

Their work is highlighted in tonight's BBC 1 Panorama show.

Speaking about the national problem, Moha-mmed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, based in Rochdale, said: "We believe that practice of grooming white teenagers into prostitution is a problem that needs to be dealt with openly and without any fears.

"Having heard at first hand the effect this has on young girls and their families I am determined that we speak out and ensure that the communities recognise the problem and work to eradicate it.

"Whilst there is no evid-ence that the police or local authorities are deliberately not speaking out about this evil practice, due to the fear of being labelled racist, their silence is contributing to a vacuum where only the BNP benefit."

Det Supt Graham Herr-mann of Lancashire Police hit back and said that there was a danger that talk of ethnic origin of the criminals would take away from the focus on protecting vulnerable young women.

He said: "It doesn't matter what part of society these people are from, we will investigate stringently. It is not about race."

Mr Herrmann pointed to the high-profile re-launch of Operation Engage after an extra £250,000 was made available.

Police in Pennine Division, set up a similar operation called Freedom.