Child Sexual Exploitation Conference - Lessons learnt from Operation Bullfinch


Thames Valley Police hosted a multi-agency Child Sexual Exploitation Conference on Tuesday, 07 January 2014, to share lessons learned from the case arising from Operation Bullfinch.

The all-day event, which was held at the Kassam Stadium, in Oxford, was jointly organised with the Crown Prosecution Service and Oxfordshire County Council.

The conference provided an opportunity for the Force and relevant partner organisations to gather as much learning as possible from Operation Bullfinch, the Oxford-based joint investigation by Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council into child sexual exploitation.

Around 160 people from across the country were in attendance, with most forces in the country being represented as well as key partners in child protection.

There were contributions from a number of agencies to put forward their own specialised viewpoints in connection with the Operation Bullfinch case, which in May 2013, at the Old Bailey saw seven men found guilty of offences including rape, facilitating child prostitution and trafficking.

Reflecting on the success of the conference, Chief Constable Sara Thornton said: "Thames Valley Police and other local partners have learned a great many important lessons about how to tackle child sexual exploitation and the conference gave us an opportunity to share that learning with colleagues from all over the country.

"It was really well attended and the feedback has been really positive. I am grateful to all the speakers who contributed their time and experiences."

Alison Levitt QC, Principal Legal Advisor to the Director of Public Prosecutions,  said:  "The approach of the Crown Prosecution Service to cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation has developed and matured in recent years. The most fundamental shift has been the way in which we consider the victim; we are now very clear that the prosecution must consider the overall credibility of an allegation rather than making what appear to be value judgements about the character or lifestyle of the person making it.

"I hope victims will understand that prosecutors will not regard factors such as the consumption of alcohol or delay in reporting the crime as meaning that no trial can take place. We want it to be clear that  it is the crime allegedly committed against them, and not outdated assumptions, myths and stereotypes about how a victim 'ought to' behave,  which will form the basis of our assessment of the case.

"We treat allegations of sexual crimes in exactly the same way as any other: for example, if a victim of a mugging reports his or her mobile phone stolen, we do not start off by doubting their story because they are unable to provide witnesses or evidence of injury. My message to victims of sexual abuse is that you won't be treated differently simply because the crime you are reporting is a sexual offence.   I really hope that knowing this will give victims the confidence to come forward.

"I was delighted to be asked to speak at the Thames Valley Child Sexual Exploitation conference. Thames Valley has seen a number of successful convictions of offenders who sexually exploit children, demonstrating that our new approach is the right one. I am convinced that with the police and Crown Prosecution Service working together at an early stage, we can continue to build strong cases to put before the courts. This conference shows our determination to do just that."

Joanna Simons, Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council, said: "Working together with the police on Bullfinch, we have learned that successful prosecutions require a new approach by everyone involved in child protection.  We need to make sure we see the child as a victim as opposed to a young person making bad choices.

"Previously, prosecutions have relied on victims being willing and able to give evidence, and prosecutors and others believing their evidence. This is a problem if vulnerable young victims do not report issues to the police or do give initial evidence but then decide that they are unable to proceed or give evidence that may be inconsistent.

"That is why trust is so important. Social workers working with police can build that trust with young people which was vital to the success of Bullfinch. Our commitment is that we never give up on a child, and will work tirelessly to stop the sexual exploitation of children and if possible enable a prosecution of the abusers."

The speakers at the conference were:

  • Thames Valley Police Chief Constable Sara Thornton, and Assistant Chief Constable John Campbell.
  • Simon Morton, the Senior Investigating Officer in the case (retired)
  • The case's prosecuting counsel, Noel Lucas QC, and Principal Legal Adviser Alison Levitt QC, from the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Joanna Simons,, Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council.
  • Representatives of Kingfisher Team Oxfordshire, a multi-agency initiative in which police officers and social workers link in with health and education with the sole aim of dealing with CSE. The speakers were Det Sgt Jane Rennells  of Operation Kingfisher, and Sue Evans, Team Leader of Children's Social Care at Oxfordshire County Council.
  • Detective Chief Superintendant Andy Murray on Thames Valley Police's response to CSE.
  • Peter Davies, the National Crime Agency command for Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP).

In addition to the speakers, there was a Q&A panel featuring Simon Morton, Noel Lucas QC,  Alison Levitt QC,  along with Detective Chief Superintendant Rob Mason and Oxford Local Policing Area Commander Superintendant Christian Bunt,  both from Thames Valley Police.

An independent Serious Case Review to review practice for all agencies is currently underway.