TEENAGE girls as young as 13 were victims of widespread sexploitation after being plied with drink and drugs, a new report reveals.
The serious case review into Operation Mansfield — which a court was told involved 139 children — has been published this week by the Torbay Safeguarding Children Board into the abuse of 'substantial numbers' of young girls between 2006 and 2011.
The executive summary criticises professionals who failed to pick up early warning signs. And it catalogues a list of missed opportunities and numerous disclosures which were not acted upon to stop the sexual abuse as far back as 2008.
Health professionals were more focussed on giving out contraception than spotting the sexploitation of vulnerable young girls, the report says.
The Youth Offending Team and Probation Service, who were in touch with the offenders, are criticised for focusing on offences and failing to pick-up early warning signs.
The report says: "Early intervention may have reduced the offenders' progression to becoming abusers."
The criminal justice system also failed to protect the teenage girls, the report says.
"There was one significant missed opportunity to respond to a disclosure from a 13-year-old girl that she was being sexually exploited.
"The lack of action by police and children's social care was influenced by her unwillingness to make a statement to the police."
The report reveals it was this 13-year-old girl's disclosures which became the basis for starting Operation Mansfield. But that was not until July 2010 at a presentation locally by a member of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children to the Missing Persons Forum meeting, following the appointment of a new police Missing Person Intervention Manager in 2009.
It was at that multi-agency meeting which concerns were first raised an Operation Mansfield began.
The report says 12 girls were initially identified as potential victims. It is understood eventually up to 40 girls were involved.
One young white male was prosecuted and another was cautioned. Action against others was not taken because of a lack of evidence.
One offender was identified as being a 'possible risk to young girls' as far back as 2008.
The authorities were aware the offender they call Subject Two was having sex with an underage girl and taking her travelling in a stolen car.
Despite that, the report says 'his potential for sexual exploitation was not identified' and his contact with young girls was assessed to be due to his immaturity.
But the report says: "Subject One, the main offender, was never considered to be a risk due to his age, despite the numerous disclosures about his contact with young girls'.
It paints a picture of a large number of young, vulnerable girls falling prey to an 'unorganised and opportunistic' group of young white males in their late teens and early 20s.
This was an 'unorganised and opportunistic abuse of vulnerable young girls for the gratification of a relatively small group of young males, linked to the supply and misuse of drugs'.
The report says there was no evidence of prostitution or organised paedophilia as in the high-profile cases in Rochdale, Derbyshire and Rotherham.
But it says: "There are also many similarities between the cases regarding the vulnerabilities of the victims and the responses of professionals."
It adds the girls were 'being abused by a small group of males, only two of whom had any substantial evidence against them'.
It goes on: "They were sexually abusing the girls mainly for their own purposes.
"The abuse was facilitated by the supply of alcohol and drugs to the victims."
The report paints a picture of health professionals who were more focussed on reducing Torbay's high teenage pregnancy rate than on spotting vulnerable young girls.
The report states that:
"Professionals from all agencies were lacking in their knowledge and understanding of sexual exploitation."
The police investigation was not at a 'sufficient level of seniority given that the police were the lead agency'.
The report criticises the focus on preventing pregnancy. It says assessments of the young girls were not always recorded and 'failed to consider fully the girls' emotional and intellectual maturity. Decisions were being made on the level of the treatment proposed, that is, contraception only'.
It adds: "Neither health professionals when consulted for contraception and sexual health advice nor other professionals provided effective assessments of vulnerability."
The Operation Mansfield investigation itself is also criticised: "The strategic management of the complex investigation would have benefited from members having a better understanding of their role and inter-relationships between all organisations involved."
It adds that in future: "Disclosures of sexual exploitation/abuse must be dealt with as a serious crime in line with procedures. The victim must be fully supported in order to reduce their future exposure to risk.
"There is a need for professionals to take disclosures seriously and to put in place support so the young person starts to feel protected, and possibly willing to support disclosure."