Grooming Gangs Taskforce arrests hundreds in first year

A dedicated police taskforce set up to bring down grooming gangs has supported police forces in England and Wales to make hundreds of arrests in its first year

In the last 12 months the crack team of expert investigators and analysts has helped police forces arrest over 550 suspects, identify and protect over 4,000 victims, and build up robust cases to get justice for these appalling crimes. 

Established by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in April 2023, the Grooming Gangs Taskforce of specialist officers has worked with all 43 police forces in England and Wales to support child sexual exploitation and grooming investigations. 

Led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and supported by the National Crime Agency, the taskforce is a full time, operational police unit funded by the Home Office to improve how the police investigate grooming gangs and identify and protect children from abuse. It is staffed by experienced and qualified officers and data analysts who have long-term, practical on-the-ground experience of undertaking investigations into grooming gangs. 

Home Secretary, James Cleverly said: 

"Where a child is being abused, we must do everything in our power to protect them and pursue the perpetrators until they are behind bars.   

"This despicable crime can have a lasting impact on a child’s life and I am pleased that in only a year, the taskforce’s hard work alongside local policing efforts has led to more than 550 arrests and helped keep thousands more children safe. I thank everyone that has been involved in this effort.  

"But we know we must do more. Through our Criminal Justice Bill we are better protecting children by requiring all professionals to report to police where they fear abuse is taking place and banning sex offenders from changing their names to evade justice."

Yesterday (Monday 20 May), the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, visited Essex Police where he spoke to the force’s Child Sexual Exploitation teams who have seen their investigations supported by the taskforce in the last year.

More than 400 officers across the country have now been specially trained by the taskforce, with more set to be mobilised over the coming months to root out child sex offenders. At his visit to Essex Police, the Home Secretary was able to witness first-hand a live training session of new recruits being upskilled in the specialist skills needed to work on child sexual abuse cases.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris said: 

"I am proud that the measures announced by this government just over a year ago to clamp down on crimes perpetrated by grooming gangs has led to hundreds of arrests, and the protection of over 4,000 victims. 

"We must continue to do more to support the police, placing technology and specialist training at the heart of our rigorous targeting of abusers who prey on vulnerable young people in the most appalling way. They must be brought to justice and face the full force of the law."

Crucial to the taskforce’s work has been the development of the Complex and Organised Child Abuse Database, which provides forces with a more robust data picture of the scale, risk, prevalence and characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation than ever before, helping forces to deploy their resources locally in the most targeted way, and investigate without fear or favour around misplaced cultural sensitivities. 

The taskforce has built strong engagement with an expert Crown Prosecution Service team to build robust prosecution cases to put more criminals behind bars. It provides intelligence for forces to help identify and disrupt grooming gang networks by collaborating with the Tackling Organised Exploitation Programme (TOEX) which provides cutting-edge data and analysis to help forces identify suspects.   

The taskforce has also forged strong partnerships with hotels to raise awareness of the early warning signs of child sexual exploitation through Operation Makesafe. 

Ian Critchley, NPCC National Police Lead for Child Protection and Abuse said: 

"Since the taskforce was launched, significant strides have been made to enhance the policing response to CSE investigation as well as co-ordinate best practice and guidance to further protect victims and disrupt perpetrators, through working closely with forces such as Essex .

"Sadly, we know that CSE in many forms is still prevalent in our communities. The way we listen to, and support victims and survivors of these most abhorrent crimes is key to building on and maintaining the progress we have already made through the work of the CSE taskforce and dedicated force teams.

"I hope this assures victims that when they take what is often a difficult decision to report to police, that they will be treated with empathy and respect and with the utmost professionalism . We are committed and dedicated to bringing more offenders to justice for these appalling crimes , wherever and whenever they have been committed and the taskforce are supporting force operations across the country.  

"While it is important to acknowledge how far we have come, particularly in the last 12 months, it is essential we continue to learn and make changes to help inform and influence all our work, in particular working alongside children’s services and valued third sector partners in encompassing the voice of victims and survivors in all we do.

"We are not standing still. It is incumbent on us all in society and different communities to prevent these offences that have a lifelong impact on victims . We remain dedicated to ensuring we identify, protect and support victims and are committed to the relentless pursuit of offenders to bring them to justice."

Gabrielle Shaw, Chief Executive for the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) said: 

"At NAPAC, we are proud of the work we and other third sector colleagues have been doing in integrating the voices and experiences of victims and survivors into the CSE taskforce.  

"By listening to and acting on this, national policing will create authentic, practical change that improves victims and survivors’ engagement with the justice system. 

"The CSE taskforce’s work is informed by NAPAC’s unique body of research on what victims and survivors themselves want. This research shows that for a large proportion of survivors, a positive outcome does not necessarily equate to a criminal conviction. Many want to feel heard and believed, to stand up and be counted without entering the court process and without fearing judgement or re-traumatisation. 

"We look forward to police forces across the country continuing their positive work with partners, such as third sector organisations, to successfully understand and achieve the outcomes that victims and survivors wish for."

These measures demonstrate the government’s ongoing commitment to delivering on the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report to protect children from harm, and make sure authorities never again turn a blind eye to child sexual exploitation and abuse.  

The Home Secretary is introducing a new legal requirement, through the government’s flagship Criminal Justice Bill, for anyone engaging in relevant activity with children in England, including teachers and healthcare professionals, to mandatorily report if they know a child is being sexual abused. Anyone who attempts to prevent a mandatory reporter from reporting known child sexual abuse could face prosecution and up to seven years in prison. 

The Home Office has also provided £1.6m in funding for the NSPCC’s whistleblowing helpline, as well as their public helpline, giving professionals and members of the public help to raise concerns about children in their community. In the last year, the whistleblowing and public helplines have handled nearly 76,000 contact points with over 40,000 referrals made to partner agencies, including police and social services. 

In addition, the police are gaining greater powers to stop registered sex offenders from changing their name if they think they still pose a risk to their communities, strengthening measures to ensure parents and carers have the information they need to keep children safe from offenders, and making sure that members of grooming gangs face the toughest possible sentences for their crimes by introducing legislation through the Criminal Justice Bill to create a statutory aggravating factor for grooming behaviour. 

We recognise the devastating impacts that child sexual exploitation and abuse can have on victims and survivors, and are committed to ensuring that specialist support is provided to help all victims and survivors rebuild and move forward with their lives. 

Our Support for Victims and Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (SVSCSA) Fund (2022-2025) provides grant funding of up to £4.5m to voluntary sector organisations in England and Wales, giving nationally accessible support to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. 

The Ministry of Justice is also quadrupling funding for victim and witness support services by 2025, up from £41 million in 2010.

From: Home Office, Laura Farris MP and The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP