Agencies blamed children and not perpetrators for the abuse suffered in Telford, the report says.
Obvious evidence of child sex crimes in Telford were ignored for generations leading to more than 1,000 girls being abused, an inquiry has found.
Agencies blamed children for the abuse they suffered, not the perpetrators, and exploitation was not investigated because of “nervousness about race”.
The inquiry was set up after the Sunday Mirror revealed gangs had been abusing girls in the town since the 1980s.
Chairman Tom Crowther QC said the abuse had thrived unchecked for decades.
It makes 47 recommendations for improvement by agencies involved.
The report found agencies dismissed reports of child exploitation as “child prostitution”.
Mr Crowther said: “The overwhelming theme of the evidence has been the appalling suffering of generations of children caused by the utter cruelty of those who committed child sexual exploitation.
“Victims and survivors repeatedly told the inquiry how, when they were children, adult men worked to gain their trust before ruthlessly betraying that trust, treating them as sexual objects or commodities.
“Countless children were sexually assaulted and raped. They were deliberately humiliated and degraded. They were shared and trafficked. They were subjected to violence and their families were threatened.
“They lived in fear and their lives were forever changed. They have asked, over the years: how was this allowed to happen?”
Other key findings include:
- Teachers and social workers being discouraged from reporting abuse
- Offenders becoming “emboldened” by the absence of police action, with abuse continuing for years without concerted response.
- Even after an investigation leading to seven men being jailed for child sex crimes West Mercia Police and Telford & Wrekin Council scaled down their specialist teams “to virtual zero” in order to save money
The investigation was known as Operation Chalice and saw two Telford brothers among those jailed. A court heard the brothers sexually abused, trafficked and prostituted, or tried to prostitute, four teenagers between March 2008 and December 2009.
The report found the most common way children were exploited was through a “boyfriend” model, where a child would meet a man, who would persuade them to become his girlfriend.
Perpetrators, it said, sought out “vulnerable” children and would begin giving them lifts, buying them food, alcohol or cigarettes which led to the children becoming involved in sexual activity with the men as a “favour” as payment for the gifts.
Most of those responsible for the abuse did not use contraception and “pregnancies were expected to be (and in many cases were) terminated”, though some survivors went on to bear the children of their perpetrators.
In several cases, victims received death threats against them or their families if they tried to end the abuse,
The report references the case of Lucy Lowe,16, who died along with her 17-year-old sister,and mother in a house fire started by Azhar Ali Mehmood, 26, the father of her daughter. She had become pregnant at 14 to Mehmood.
The report continued to say children were often abused in nightclubs and takeaways with witnesses also describing a “rape house” in Wellington, Telford, to which young people were taken,
Within schools, it said, there was a “reluctance” to report concerning activity without “concrete proof” which was an “overly cautious approach”, while “obvious” indicators like absences and changes in behaviour went unremarked by school staff.
The report said, in the most recent figures from the first six months of 2020, police received 172 referrals related to child exploitation.
The “dreadful, life altering crime has not gone away – in Telford or elsewhere,” the report said.
It also outlines recent police evidence of “an unacceptable, and quite frankly offensive attitude”, towards child abuse victims, with “disparaging language being used”.
In his statement, Mr Crowther said he looked back as far as 1989 to draw his conclusions, but had heard from victims exploited as long ago as the 1970s.
“I saw references to exploitation being ‘generational’; having come to be regarded as ‘normal’ by perpetrators and inevitable by victims and survivors some of whose parents had been through similar experiences,” he said.
He urged agencies to accept the recommendations made in the report and hoped the report “goes some way” to giving a voice to the survivors.
Mr Crowther recommended the formation of a joint review team to publish an annual report on child abuse in Telford.
About 167 witnesses had given evidence, including 36 survivors or their families, and about 200,000 documents, the majority from Telford and Wrekin Council, were examined.
Eversheds Sutherland, which conducted the inquiry, said it could not comment on individual cases but Telford & Wrekin Council had commissioned, at the request of chairman Tom Crowther, an independent and confidential support service for anyone giving evidence to the inquiry and all individuals were made aware of this.
Mark Berry formerly ran a project which operated a night cafe from a Methodist church in Wellington and street teams operating around nightclubs, supporting vulnerable people, including young girls.
“They would come into the cafe or we would talk to them outside and we began to hear stories about why they felt vulnerable, particularly on the streets, that there were groups of guys who were, what we would call now, grooming them, offering them gifts, wanting to take them to parties, things like that,” he said.
He said the staff would see men in cars approaching girls as they left pubs and nightclubs.
“These guys weren’t going into the clubs, they weren’t part of the normal night time life, the entertainment life, it felt like they were specifically there for this purpose,” he said.
He said girls would tell them how they felt “vulnerable”, “hassled” and “harassed”, which they reported to the police officers who they now know were heading up the Operation Chalice inquiry.
Mr Berry said the town had “pulled together” in the wake of the investigation and added the inquiry was “crucial” for understanding what had happened.
“There needs to be justice and there needs to be resolution for the victims and for the wider community and people want that to happen,” he said.
If you have been affected by anything in this report, support is available through the BBC’s Action Line.