Arrests over child prostitution network selling girls as young as 11

Twelve men have been arrested after detectives uncovered what they believe to be an organised crime group selling young girls for sex.

The suspects were held this morning as part of a child exploitation investigation into the cases of 24 girls aged between 11 and 16 in Oxford.

The men – aged between 21 and 37- are now being questioned on suspicion of a string of offences including causing the prostitution of young girls, trafficking, grooming and rape.

They are being held in custody at an undisclosed police station.

The alleged offending is believed to span more than a six-year period.

Detective Superintendent Rob Mason, of Thames Valley Police, said: ”We believe we have uncovered an organised crime group who have been running a business of selling young girls for sex.

”We have also identified a number of customers who we have reason to believe have used this service.”

The arrests came after officers executed 14 warrants across Oxford as part of an operation named Bullfinch.

The police investigation, carried out in conjunction with Oxfordshire County Council, aims to rescue potential victims and secure convictions of those believed to be responsible.

Councillor Louise Chapman, cabinet member for children, young people and families, said the council’s focus was now on care for alleged victims.

Peter Davies, chief executive at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, commended the police action.

”Tackling this devastating form of child abuse is challenging for police forces and other agencies, so I’d like to congratulate Thames Valley Police on these arrests,” he said.

Sheila Taylor, director of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People, said: ”As always, our concerns lie with the young people who have been victims and (we) are very pleased to see a complete multi-agency team approach to assisting the recovery of the young people.

”The experience of our members in the network is thatboth victims and offenders come from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds.”

The alleged crimes include causing the prostitution of females under the age of 18, administrating drugs for the purpose of rape, trafficking, grooming and rape.

The trafficking allegations are not understood to involve children being transported into the country from overseas.

Instead the charge relates to the alleged victims being moved from elsewhere in the UK.

Officers were carrying out reassurance patrols, with activity near St Aldates police station in central Oxford.

Superintendent Chris Sharp, the Oxford commander, said: “I understand today’s events will have an impact on residents.

“My neighbourhood policing teams will be carrying out reassurance patrols in the area issuing information about the operation with contact details if people need further information, or would like to report any activity in relation to this investigation.

“There are individuals and groups who may seek to take advantage of the young and vulnerable and it is our job, working with our partners, to prevent whatever form of abuse takes place and bring those responsible to justice.”