CPS statement in response to Operation Bullfinch Serious Case Review

03/03/2015

The statement below has been prepared by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in response to today's publication of the Operation Bullfinch Serious Case Review.

Adrian Foster, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern CPS said: "The abuse the victims of Operation Bullfinch were subjected to was truly appalling. I would like to thank the victims and their families for having the courage to support the investigations and prosecutions. Their bravery ensured that seven sexual predators, who sought opportunities to actively target, coerce, sexually abuse and exploit vulnerable young girls, were successfully brought to justice. Their continued support during the Serious Case Review has allowed all of the agencies involved in the protection of children to review their approach to child sexual exploitation and to make changes that will reduce the opportunity for other victims to suffer in the way that they did.

"Above all else, I hope that the progress demonstrated in the Serious Case Review will give confidence to anyone who is suffering child sexual exploitation to report what is happening to them. It is important that they understand that consent must be given with free will. Consent obtained through emotional abuse, coercion and bribery is not consent in law. The jury accepted in the first Operation Bullfinch trial that the defendants had eroded the free will of the victims to the point where they agreed to engage in sexual activity because they felt they had no choice. I hope that the improvement that all agencies have made in their methodology to child sexual exploitation, will convince other victims that if they come forward they will be listened to and believed, and that steps will be taken to stop their abuse and protect them. It is equally important that they understand that prosecution is not the only way in which they can be protected, because there are other ways to deal with and disrupt their abusers.

"Every agency involved in the Serious Case Review has been open to identifying their missed opportunities. The CPS has gained significant knowledge in how to successfully prosecute cases of child sexual exploitation as a result of Operation Bullfinch and other such cases around the country. New child sexual exploitation guidelines were issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions in October 2013, a new joint CPS/police rape protocol was published in January 2015, and a rape consent toolkit was launched in January 2015. These documents along with our ongoing work to improve our service to victims and witnesses are all increasing our ability to bring successful prosecutions against those who sexually abuse children. In the CPS Thames and Chiltern Area, we created a specialist Rape and Serious Sexual Offences unit in January 2014 and have specialist Complex Casework Unit lawyers who deal with large scale child sexual exploitation cases. Joint agency work around safeguarding is also much stronger and the chances of child sexual exploitation being prevented, disrupted and punished are far greater.

"As a result of the implementation of the recommendations in the Serious Case Review, the community in Oxford can feel safer in the knowledge that, all agencies have increased their knowledge, experience and expertise in preventing, identifying and dealing with child sexual exploitation and are more equipped and adept at collectively bringing perpetrators to justice. This has been demonstrated by a number of successful trials over the last two years. There has been a fundamental shift in the way the CPS approaches child sexual exploitation cases; we now look at the credibility of the allegation rather than the credibility of the victim. We recognise that victims are often targeted because they are vulnerable and that the abusers think that a victim will not be believed because of their chaotic lifestyle. Now, the victim's vulnerability is more likely to be placed before the court to explain why they were actively targeted.

"I would like to personally thank all those that contributed to this comprehensive Serious Case Review especially the victims of Operation Bullfinch and their families. All agencies involved in the issues highlighted during Operation Bullfinch have come together with an open mind to ensure that lessons have been learnt, which has resulted in the recommendations that, once fully implemented, will continue to improve the protection of vulnerable people. We continue to prosecute other cases of child sexual exploitation using the improved understanding that we have gained and we will continue to vigorously prosecute anyone against whom there is sufficient evidence. The sexual exploitation of children is an ongoing issue and there is more to do, but due to our rigorous and coordinated cross agency approach, where victims do come forward, we will bring more offenders to justice."