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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


H.5: Lack of information about perpetrator groups

11. It was clear from the evidence that none of the police forces or local authorities in the case study areas in this investigation had an accurate understanding of networks sexually exploiting children in their area.

12. Durham Constabulary’s 2019 problem profile noted that its sample contained examples where “more than one person will offend against the child at the same time”, which Deputy Chief Constable (DCC) David Orford acknowledged would fit the Inquiry’s definition of organised networks.[1] Despite this, no evidence was provided about the number of cases of child sexual exploitation by networks using the Inquiry’s definition. The profile suggested that “Lone offenders remain the key threat, to date there is no evidence of organised group offending”, although that term (taken from the College of Policing guidance) is narrower than the Inquiry’s definition.[2] The force’s Operational Threat and Risk Document, dated October 2019, noted under ‘information gaps’ that no OCGs (organised crime groups) were mapped for child sexual abuse and exploitation “locally or regionally”.[3] DCC Orford spoke of the difficulty in being absolutely certain that an OCG had “its entire focus on exploiting children”.[4] This is another definition, which appears to further limit the type of group of abusers being considered by Durham Constabulary.

13. In the evidence disclosed to us, there were examples in Swansea of child sexual exploitation by organised networks, using the Inquiry’s definition. For example, four individuals were described in an October 2019 report as “linked in one way or another to each other” and displaying “inappropriate sexual behaviour towards vulnerable young persons”.[5] There were also networks referred to in the case study of CS-A56 and in the case of CS-B319, referred to by the City and County of Swansea Council.[6] These instances of exploitation by networks or groups should have been identified by the police and the local authority. However, South Wales Police incorrectly told us that there were no data to suggest sexual exploitation by organised networks, whether according to the Inquiry’s definition or at all, and “no data to support suggestions that there is a gang related CSE issue within the Swansea area”.[7] Detective Chief Superintendent Daniel Richards accepted in evidence that “there is a likelihood that there are organised criminal networks that we haven’t discovered” and that increased county lines activities meant there was an increased likelihood of sexual exploitation.[8]

14. CS-A2 reported in April 2017 that there was a network of older people abusing her daughter in Warwickshire but, in her view, this was not explored because the police did not recognise it as a network due to the perceived absence of other criminal activity.[9] Police operations (such as Operation Jive) indicated that there were associations between perpetrators.[10] Nonetheless, Warwickshire Police’s October 2019 problem profile did not record any groups or networks involved in or perpetrating child sexual exploitation in the county.[11] Detective Superintendent Peter Hill told us that organised criminal gangs exploiting young people were “relatively rare”, although he recognised exploitation was more often by ‘disorganised’ groups with loose associations such as through friendship groups or interactions through social media.[12] It appears that Warwickshire Police conducted little, if any, analysis of the extent to which child sexual exploitation was being committed by groups or networks.[13]

15. St Helens’ 2018 problem profile considered organised criminality but did not identify any OCGs engaged in child sexual exploitation.[14] However, Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Ian Critchley told us that, as at September 2019, Merseyside Police had identified 11 OCGs for the Merseyside region with child sexual exploitation as a primary or secondary crime type.[15] Other evidence provided to the Inquiry by Merseyside Police, however, showed that there were instances of child sexual exploitation which involved a “group/gang”.[16] ACC Critchley explained that networks involved in exploitation tended to incorporate online exploitation, county lines and sexual exploitation.[17] In November 2019, there were “three live cases of child sexual exploitation by organised networks being investigated in this local authority area” but there were no ongoing investigations by August 2020.[18] ACC Critchley said, however, that there was only “a limited amount of resource” to identify children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation by a group not formally classed as an OCG. As a result, in St Helens, networks not formally classed as OCGs did not appear to be a focus of the policing response to child sexual exploitation.

16. In Tower Hamlets, as at November 2019, there was “no identified evidence of organised networks being investigated within this policing area currently”, albeit the Metropolitan Police Service considered that a gang model was more prevalent in other parts of London.[19] The 2019 problem profile covering Tower Hamlets and Hackney identified that 15 percent of all child sexual exploitation reports in 2018/19 showed links to gangs or organised groups; the figure for Tower Hamlets alone was 9 percent. Its overview accepted that “young people affected by, or associated with, gangs are at high risk of sexual exploitation”.[20] Commander Sue Williams explained that, when looking at organised criminal networks, the force used the Serious Crime Act 2015 definition, that of OCGs. On that basis, she said “what we have seen is a number of adults in various locations, but not necessarily seen as an organised criminal network”.[21] The Metropolitan Police Service told us that there were no cases or issues with child sexual exploitation by networks in Tower Hamlets, using the Inquiry’s definition.[22] Given the breadth of the Inquiry’s definition of a network this cannot be right.

17. Mr Richard Baldwin, Divisional Director for Children’s Social Care at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, said that there was “no evidence to suggest that currently any of the young people [with cases] open through the Pan-London Sexual Exploitation Operating Protocol are part of organised networks”.[23] He said that the local authority had not identified any cases of sexual exploitation by networks applying the definition of an OCG.[24] Applying the Inquiry’s definition of an organised network, Mr Baldwin considered that four operations within the borough would fall under that definition.[25] He acknowledged, however, that:

just because we haven’t seen it doesn’t mean to say it’s not there, and, clearly, we need to remain very open and alive to the fact that organised networks are, you know, an element of exploitation”.[26]

18. Avon and Somerset Police had considerable information about potential perpetrators in Bristol, as a result of its Topaz Risk Assessment Profile (TRAP) system described below. In 2019, this showed 510 potential adult perpetrators of child sexual exploitation within the force area, of whom 290 were flagged to Operation Topaz and were reviewed and assessed as posing a potential risk to children. Of the 290 flagged, 236 were within Bristol.[27] Despite this significant number of adults who posed a risk to children, there was less information about offender networks. Avon and Somerset Police’s 2019 problem profile noted that:

  • the police had not identified significant OCG involvement in child sexual exploitation;[28]
  • the majority of offenders offend alone “or with small groups which are socially motivated”; and
  • any incidents that have involved groups “have not been in a traditional organised groups structure but rather a loose collection of associates who may be involved in other criminal activity”.[29]

The second and third groups would be regarded as an organised network according to the Inquiry’s definition and we do not know the number of cases falling within this definition.[30] When asked about this, Chief Superintendent William White of Avon and Somerset Police referred to work that had been done to map the connections between different victims and different potential subjects. He explained that networks using the Inquiry’s definition were difficult to “segment” and added:

in terms of the overall picture of networks around CSE, what we know is, there’s lots of people involved with that and there’s lots of potential groups but to define them as different networks is virtually impossible”.[31]


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