Bullfinch: Thames Valley Police chief constable admits ‘many errors were made’

TVP Chief COnstable Sara Thornton
TVP Chief COnstable Sara Thornton
  • ‘We have examined what went wrong and are doing all we can to put things right.’

The outgoing chief constable of Thames Valley Police has admitted the force could have identified the exploitation of children ‘earlier than it did’ and that ‘many errors were made.

The comments from Sara Thornton follow the publication today, Tuesday, of the independent Serious Case Review by the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board into Child Sexual Exploitation in Oxfordshire.

The serious case review followed a trial in 2013 in which seven men were imprisoned for a total of 95 years for the grooming, abuse, rape and prostitution of six girls in Oxford from 2005-2011

Ms Thornton said: “The Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board has today published its independent Serious Case Review into Child Sexual Exploitation within Oxfordshire.

“We have contributed fully to the review and accept its findings.

“The independent review highlighted that agencies including Thames Valley Police could have identified the exploitation between 2004 and 2010 earlier than it did and many errors were made.

“The review acknowledges that we have been willing to learn and change.

“We have examined what went wrong and we are doing all that we can to put things right.

“After the 2013 trial, I personally apologised to the victims and their families for not identifying the systematic nature of the abuse sooner, that we were too reliant on victims supporting criminal proceedings and that it took too long to bring the offenders to justice.

“I want to reiterate that apology today.”

“We are ashamed of the shortcomings identified in this report and we are determined to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council launched Operation Bullfinch, a joint investigation into suspected serious sexual offences against children within Oxfordshire, in May 2011.

Two years later, seven men were convicted at the Old Bailey of 59 counts of offences including rape, trafficking and arranging or facilitating prostitution.

They were sentenced to a total of 95 years’ imprisonment for offences against six girls between 2004 and 2011.

Since then, more men have been convicted of offences relating to Operation Bullfinch and a dedicated team of 20 detectives continues to investigate potential victims and suspects of Child Sexual Exploitation in Oxfordshire.

Today’s report revealed that although many positive changes have been made by Thames Valley Police since Operation Bullfinch, the exploitation could have been identified earlier and that errors were made.

Ms Thornton, who is due to leave Thames Valley Police next month, said: “The Force has made significant progress in the way we prevent, identify, disrupt and investigate Child Sexual Exploitation.

“Recent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary inspections have recognised us for our track record in addressing so-called ‘hidden crimes’.

“Since the 2011 financial year, we have invested £3.5m in dedicated resources to tackle this kind of exploitation. In addition one of our Major Crime Teams, who have traditionally investigated murders are now entirely focused on Child Sexual Exploitation investigations.

“In Oxfordshire, we have a dedicated unit, the Kingfisher team, where police officers, social workers and health and education professionals sit side by side in order to safeguard children from Child Sexual Exploitation.

“We continue to work with one of the six victims from Operation Bullfinch to deliver training to frontline officers and new detectives and inspectors in order for us to better identify potential victims and suspects.

“She talks about her experiences with the police in order for us to learn from mistakes made prior to 2011.

“The independent review found that ‘Operation Bullfinch and subsequent prosecutions have shown concerted and vigorous action’.

“Since the 2013 trial at the Old Bailey, we have successfully charged 47 offenders in connection with 201 Child Sexual Exploitation offences and will continue to do so.

“We are ashamed of the shortcomings identified in this report and we are determined to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.

“Safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children and robustly and vigorously investigating those who prey on them, is the responsibility of every officer and member of staff in Thames Valley Police.”

- Thames Valley Police have said that if you think you have been a victim of sexual abuse, or are worried about someone, phone 101, quoting URN 165 18/2/15.

More Bullfinch coverage: Oxfordshire County Council apologises for failing to prevent abuse of girls ; Senior police officer talks about tackling CSE in Cherwell