A CATALOGUE of mistakes and missed opportunities by police and social workers was blamed today for failing to protect a vulnerable schoolgirl from West Yorkshire who was systematically abused by a gang of Asian males whom, a court heard, saw her as “utterly worthless”.
The girl, identified only as “Autumn”, was aged 13 and 14 when she was repeatedly raped, sexually abused and passed around by the men. In one sustained attack she was raped by five of them in succession.
Today, a “serious case review” published by Bradford Safeguarding Children Board criticised police for “not prioritising intervention in this type of crime”, and for a belief that “children involved in this kind of harm were actively consenting and choosing to become involved”.
On one occasion, police treated information that Autumn had performed a sex act on an Asian man in a park as a case of prostitution, the review’s authors say.
Bradford’s Education Social Work Service was criticised for having “little grasp” of what was happening to Autumn and for a “serious lack of consistency in the support and co-ordination” of its work.
Last February, 12 men were jailed for a total of 130 years. Eleven were sentenced for rape and a twelfth was jailed for sexual activity with a child under 16.
Judge Roger Thomas QC said the men “saw her as a pathetic figure who had no worth and who served no purpose than to be an object that they could sexually misuse and cast aside”.
Autumn was said by today’s report to have lived in a house located between two gangs, both of whom targeted her for exploitation.
The report, which said the girl had a fracutred home life and had lived with her grandmother in Keighley, criticised social workers for “taking key information at face value” without taking further advice.
Among their failings, it said, were:
• Not progressing concerns when Autumn reported assaults
• Failure to progress a medical assessment with Autumn following a rape
• Failing to respond appropriately to missing incidents.
• Not taking advice following a sexual health consultation, after Autumn was sexually exploited.
Bradford Council accepted the findings of the report.
Michael Jameson, its strategic director of children’s services, said: “I’m sorry for what happened. No child should have to endure the crimes she was subjected to.
“Across the system, people didn’t recognise the risks soon enough for Autumn and the abuse she was suffering.
“There were missed opportunities in responding to Autumn’s needs sooner. She was seen as a child in need as opposed to a child in need of protection.”
But he added: “I believe since that time we have much more robust arrangements. The report shows we have made good progress across Bradford and we are in a different position to where we were four or five years ago in terms of safeguarding arrangements.”
He said the report did not expose issues of misplaced political correctness or cultural denial in Bradford, as Dame Louise Casey found in her scathing report on similar systematic abuse in Rotherham.
“What the report says is that people missed the signs of the seriousness of the abuse,” Mr Jameson said.
The report draws parallels between Autumn’s case and others in Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere, involving the grooming of vulnerable white girls by predominantly Asian men.
It says: “The overall failings were those of a lack of knowledge and understanding around a concept (of CSE) that few understood and where few knew how it could be tackled, but also of organisational weaknesses which prevented the true picture from being seen.”
The report said there was “little evidence of any shared oversight between the police and children’s specialist services in relation to the co-ordination of support for Autumn whilst she was in her home community”.
It adds: “There is evidence that management oversight within the local CSE [child sexual exploitation] support service was poor and that key assessments undertaken by that service, as part of the work with Autumn, were not shared with Children’s
“Paediatricians were not engaged in the process by other agencies and health professionals did not seek safeguarding advice and support in relation to concerns about Autumn.”
It goes on: “Confusion and disagreement existed between agencies in relation to the threshold and nature of significant harm, and in the focus of the work to be undertaken with Autumn and her family.
“The lack of focus on perpetrators and the language used to describe Autumn’s lived experience obscured the reality of her circumstances, and the sustained and significant harm she was suffering. There was insufficient scrutiny and challenge within and between services which led to failures in co-ordination, communication and insufficient oversight of the decision making and practice in relation to Autumn.”
David Niven, chairman of Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, said: “At the centre of this report is a very brave young woman who has endured the court process to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“These offences were committed a number of years ago. So much since then has changed in awareness, learning and education when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children. We all learn things in retrospect. Of course, we wish we were as aware then as we are now – our work with Autumn has shown that.
“With all we have learnt since then, I am absolutely convinced that many other potential Autumns have been prevented in the last few years.”