THE PS150K BETRAYAL OF CHILD ABUSE VICTIMS; HOW TELFORD REFUSED CASH TO SPOT ABUSERS; INVESTIGATES.
COUNCIL chiefs in Telford turned down a PS150,000 grant that could have saved hundreds of child sex abuse victims, it has emerged.
A furious insider claimed officials were worried that accepting the funds would bring shame on the town by highlighting its grooming problem.
Victims last night slammed the move to scrap the initiative, which aimed to help professionals spot the signs of exploitation and trafficking.
The money was offered in 2010. Since then 268 local children have been referred for support after they were exploited.
One victim, first targeted in 2014 at the age of 15, was assaulted so violently her ribs were broken. She was trafficked to other towns across the Midlands to be raped by dozens of men.
The victim, now 20, said: "I'm really angry that the council turned this money down. It could have helped me a lot.
"Why would the council not want to do something like this? I was being abused for two years before any professional got involved with me.
"If people had been trained properly, they might have started asking why I wasn't turning up to school and why I was going to nightclubs.
"I've been through hell and it could have been stopped if someone had just asked the right questions."
A council source told the Sunday Mirror: "It was a real missed opportunity. Telford was screaming out for this project but we felt some people didn't want to highlight the town as a problem area.
We "Our greatest sadness is that we could have stopped some victims from being abused."
A Mirror expose last year revealed that as many as 1,000 girls could have been abused and trafficked by Telford gangs over four decades.
The Labour-led local authority was forced to agree to a public inquiry after our revelations.
But the grant - worth PS151,983 - was rejected when the council was under Tory control. At that time a police probe found 100 girls could have been targeted in just two years.
Staff were advised that the EU would contribute 80 per cent of the project's costs after the local authority successfully applied for funds in 2009.
The bid came three years before the mass abuse of girls was highlighted by the conviction of nine men in Rochdale - in the first UK prosecution of its kind.
Our source said: "This project was a real chance to lead the way. We were excited about what it might achieve. We knew child sexual exploita-highlight ethnic tion was about to become known as a huge issue across the UK. The whole country could have learned from us." The grant was part of the Daphne project, a European initiative aimed at combating violence against women and children.
The council would have had to fund 20 per cent of costs, though a leaked memo seen by the Mirror shows experts advised the authority that seconding existing staff to work on the programme would cover the cost.
But the council withdrew its bid in late 2010, devastating dedicated staff. One professional was so determined for the project to succeed she offered to work for free. Others feared the council was scared to upset minority groups, as a large number of perpetrators came from the Pakistani heritage community.
Our source said: "Many people were desperately upset when the bid was withdrawn. The grant was a complete gift. The excuse given by the council was money, but it wouldn't have cost a penny, so that didn't make sense.
"We feel they thought it would bring shame on Telford by admitting there was a problem but the same issues were being faced in other places, like Rotherham and Derby.
"We also feared they didn't want to highlight certain ethnic minority groups as perpetrators, as multicultural relations in the town had historically been very good."
The project was set to be named SITEMAP, which stood for Stopping Internal Trafficking and Exploitation Through Multi Agency Partnership.
It would have involved council staff visiting police, NHS and schools to help staff spot early signs of child sexual exploitation.
Staff would be trained on how to intervene and signpost kids to relevant services.
The source said: "One key strand was getting into residential children's homes because children in care were seen as being particularly vulnerable.
"But that was only one part of it.
This training could have been rolled out to hundreds of professionals, from teaching assistants to police community support officers."
Since turning the funding down, Telford and Wrekin Council has received hundreds of child sexual exploitation referrals.
Its specialist abuse project supported 268 young people between 2011 and 2018 and has been forced to recruit extra staff due to the volume of work.
And files uncovered by the Sunday Mirror show professionals repeatedly failed to spot signs of abuse after the project was canned.
Shockingly, girls were blamed for their own ordeals and described by council staff as "prostitutes" in documents from 2013.
Others were made to sign "behaviour contracts" which asked them to accept responsibility for symptoms of being groomed.
A spokesman for Telford and Wrekin Council said: "The funding issue referred to relates to when the council's previous administration was in control of the authority and a previous chief executive and director of children's services were in post, who left in 2011.
"As a council, we are committed to co-operating with the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation.
"We have also committed to investing in tackling child sexual exploitation and supporting victims and survivors."
Tory councillor Andrew Eade, who led the local authority at the time, said: "It would be highly improper to pass comment at this time, with the imminent commencement of the inquiry.
"We called for and fought hard for the inquiry and will be giving evidence."
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