Telford is Telling | Sarah Stook

Imagine if you will:

Let’s call this girl Tracy (first name that came into my head), and she’s thirteen. Tracy comes from a ‘rough’ background- single parent, council estate etc. She’s a normal girl, enjoys watching the X Factor, going to the shops and complaining about maths homework.

One day, she meets Al- he’s older, about twenty five or so. They chat, he’s friendly- offers her a packet of crisps, which Tracy takes. Eventually, Al says that they should hang out and that she should come to his flat. Tracy gives him her number. Not long later, Tracy goes to the flat. Al has friends over, all older like him. As the night goes on, she’s offered things- food mainly but also alcohol and drugs. Tracy is a little nervous but feels pressured to and before she knows it, Tracy has lost all control. When she wakes up, she feels strange- Al is standing over her. He tells her not to tell her mum because she might think that Tracy is a prostitute and will be ashamed of her. Tracy goes home. A few days later, she receives a call from a man who she does not recognise- says he’s a friend of Al and that he knows where she is right now. The words he says are disgusting, sexual and abusive. She receives a few more calls of the same nature.

Then it begins.

First it was Al, now it’s his friends from the flat plus other men that she does not know. They pile her with alcohol and drugs; Tracy does not want to do it but is forced to. Her phone number is sold and so is she, raped by a gang in a variety of places- Al’s flat, his friends’ flats, above shops- she is everywhere. Several times, Tracy goes to the pharmacy to get the morning after pill- even a few times in one week. She also takes a few trips to get tested; worried she might have caught something. Then one day, Tracy discovers she’s pregnant. Tracy is thirteen, a child and has no idea who the father is. She’s told to get an abortion and out of fear, she does. Not long later, she has a second.

Al tells her what he’ll do if she tells anyone. He’ll go to her little brother’s school and wait for him at the gates during pick up time or maybe wait for Tracy’s mum to leave work. If they’re all at home, he’ll pour petrol and set it alight in the middle of the night. After months of threats, Tracy is finally brave enough to tell someone, who tells her that it will be looked into.

Tracy waits. Nothing. In that time, she starts to hurt herself to deal with her pain, taking pains to hide the scars. She even contemplates suicide to get out of her situation. Tracy just waits and waits…

 

Tracy is not a real girl but her story, or at least the essence of it is. Not long ago, the Daily Mirror published the findings of an 18 month long investigation into a massive grooming ring in Telford, a town in Shropshire. The findings were nothing less than scandalous, as it looks like Telford may be one of the worst cases in the UK. The police took a decade to act after the findings, failed to investigate cases, did not act on findings out of fears of racism and feared the whistle being blown on failures to prosecute.

These finding are certainly not the first to have been revealed in recent years and whilst they are hopefully the last, that will probably not be the case. Rochdale and Rotherham are cases that will spring to mind, cases that were heavily reported due to the disgusting and shocking nature of the crimes- previously contained, but now known. One would think that the authorities would know how to handle this, having learned from the massive mistakes made by Greater Manchester Police. Telford Police had a blueprint about how not to act. Of course, the Telford ring had been going on since the 1980s and of course the police should have acted upon it, but the whistle blowing on other scandals should have kicked them into gear.

Yet, it didn’t and you have to question that.

So the authorities have failed to act. Let’s hope that our media- the BBC, Sky News and the major newspapers would blow this story wide open. It’ll be all over their front pages, on Twitter and Facebook as they expose a horrible crime committed against young, vulnerable girls- those in society we need to be protecting the most. The Daily Mirror, after all, did an excellent exposé.

Yet, they were the only ones who covered it properly.

Why the hell does no one apart from parts of social media and certain news sites? Let’s delve a little deeper into why the authorities covered it up and why no one seems to be reporting it:

  1. Covering Their Mistakes- When thinking of covering mistakes, you think of a child hiding a broken toy or when you accidentally send a person the screenshot of a conversation that you two had. What you don’t think, however, is of police forces hiding it or trying to shut up people so they don’t tell. This was not one or two girls, this was hundreds, possibly thousands and with just the same amount of abusers. Before it happened, there was some suspicion and whilst we still don’t know the extent of the problem, the authorities did know that it was a big issue. They let it blow up by doing nothing and now they’re not in a favourable light. If they hushed it up, kept it quiet, they would save face. We give the police power in society in return for the protection and security they bring, yet they insulted everybody by not helping. Telford Police didn’t want to be the Rotherham team, all over the media and slandered for it.
  2. Who the Victims Are- The victims aren’t the daughters of the local MP, councillor or chief of police. They don’t go to private schools or live on the nice parts of town. Of course, some of them are but the majority are from broken homes, from rough areas or suffer in other ways. They are girls who come from the lowest socio-economic class, who social workers keep an eye on most or are held up in the House of Commons as those that the government are or aren’t doing enough for. These are the girls stereotyped as chavs, drug addicts or teen mums. Now that is exactly what was thought of them. The Daily Mirror reported that ‘council staff viewed abused and trafficked children as “prostitutes” instead of victims, according to previously unseen files.’ It seems it was assumed that the girls were willing instead of groomed, girls who come from backgrounds where this is ‘normal.’ These are vulnerable children who have had rape, mental health issues and forced abortions thrown onto their young shoulders. All of those things are incredibly awful for ANYONE, but for children who are also receiving no support- it’s tragic. Whilst I do not want to go too partisan, I noticed a problem with Labour. In other cases, the Labour run councils often got criticism but not too much in this case, yet there is something that needs pointing out. Lucy Allan, MP for Telford released a photo on Twitter of the signatures of 10 important men who wrote to Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying that an inquiry was ‘not necessary.’ Amongst the Chair of the Safeguarding Children Board and Police Crime Commissioner (seriously), were five councillors. One was a Liberal Democrat, the other four were Labour. All are still elected councillors (their names are Shaun Davies, Richard Overton, Paul Welling, Kevin Guy and Bill Tomlinson). Labour is notable for being (apparently) the party of the working class, something they were founded to be and still are judging by the voting patterns of those in lower class groups. You’d expect, both as Labourites and as human beings, that they would rush to help the vulnerable, poor girls. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Amber Rudd also didn’t see the need for an inquiry, evidently, so she isn’t completely blameless.
  3. The Perpetrators: The Daily Mirror reported that ‘Authorities failed to keep details of abusers from Asian communities for fear of ‘racism.’ Though the statistics on the race/nationality of the perpetrators is not yet fully known, all those convicted so far are of British Asian origin, in keeping with those in other scandals such as Rotherham and Newcastle. It seems that the police did not want to worsen relations with any ethnic communities at the risk of not protecting the girls, clearly worried about the backlash from said communities as well as others who may have perceived racism. These fears about it being from the British Asian community were not unfounded evidently and it was clear the police would not be targeting people for no reason. Even in an age where ‘racism’ is the most fashionable buzzword, there is no excuse for the police not to act. The hypocrisy of the perpetrators is clear- these men are from mainly Muslim communities, often married with children. They engaged in alcohol, drug use and extra marital sex (well, rape), something strictly forbidden in Islam and something one would imagine they would hurt their wives for if they did that. Instead, the race and religion card was used to full effect. One would expect that whilst some in the British Asian community would fight for their own and even would have known about it, those who are normal and good citizens would support the police.

The police and council were found to be actively obstructive, often unwilling to help and unhelpful when they were willing. As discussed earlier, the police are given power on the condition that they protect the vulnerable and target criminals and in this case, Telford Police did not do that. The council, on the other hand, are elected. We elect them expecting they represent their constituents and the area, doing the right thing. They’re hardly doing that when they’re trying to block an investigation. Great job from the authorities here.

So what about the good old press?

We live in an age of #MeToo and #TimesUp when sexual assault is all over the news. Every day we hear of a new accusation- usually against a man- from a variety of stars, some unknown or as famous as Gwyneth Paltrow. Countless articles in newspapers and magazines have devoted themselves to the phenomenon of sexual assault reporting we have seen, every accusation getting airtime. Yet, we are yet to see that level of coverage for the Telford girls, or for the girls in other areas. How come the experiences of Natalie Portman or Rose McGowan more important and news worthy than the girls of Telford? Simple: the media report on stories that fit narratives. They don’t want to sell the story of a troubled girl who has been preyed on by a much older Asian man because, again, they’re worried about being PC. These girls aren’t Hollywood actresses or famous singers, who are apparently more important. Hollywood stars get clicks and buys, so the media obviously care more about that than stories that really change things. ‘News’ sites like BBC and Buzzfeed tend to have a liberal stance so this is not a surprise, but more conservative organisations also seem to be ignoring it. The sexual assault scandal in Hollywood is worldwide yes, but Telford is local and as such we should maybe expect more from the British press. It’s been covered up by people high up in industry for a very long time, yes, but this is not comparable to the government and judicial cover-up organised through Telford. It’s seemingly juicier when it’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey than on a random man with a name unknown to a wider audience.

That is not to say the MeToo movement does not deserve reporting. Considering how endemic it seems to be in the creative industry, government and other places, it is important that society addresses it. This cannot be at the expense of other victims though, especially when these victims do not have the voice that celebrities do. Yet, we must remember that a lot of MeToo is speculative- people have heard this, people have said that. Unless proven or admitted, there is no way to know if an accusation is fact- and of course, we expect that the vast majority of potential victims are not liars. Telford is of course speculative in some respects in that we do not know the full story, but people have been charged and arrested (only a few though), and reports have uncovered figures and facts that can be proven. If the media is to help create change, then sexual assault- whether forced upon a rich movie star or a poor council estate girl- is to be reported fairly and equally.

Now where is the backlash?

As a response to the election and inauguration of Donald Trump, the Women’s March was formed. In D.C and around the world, millions of women and men marched. The official cover was marching for things like reproductive rights and employment opportunities, but it was mostly an anti-Trump and Trump administration march as they feared for women’s rights under the colourful 45th President. In 2018, it happened again and seems that it will be a yearly thing until Trump has left office, as the controversial ‘pussy grab’ tape seems to have set the tone.

So where is the organised protest in London, in Telford or anyway in our country? Yes, Trump may have done or will do policies that will be seen as hurtful to women- but that is up to interpretation. What happened in Telford is hurtful to women. It was an attack on the female gender, a genuine and systematic attack on women. Telford girls were abused by disgusting rapists and were ignored by those in positions of power. If we should be marching for anyone, it should be for them but we have not seen any of it. We haven’t seen marches for the victims of FGM (no one had been prosecuted for the crime) or for abuse, but we have for Trump. Protest, fine- it’s your right, but at least get angry about Telford if you are big on women’s rights. These protests do seem political, almost partisan. Tweets have not been sent, Facebook pages not been made. I am yet to see a ‘Resistance’ to mass child sexual abuse like I am seeing for Hollywood scandals or Trump’s derogatory comments.

This article started with a fictional story; now let’s end it with a real one. At the age of 12, a girl called Lucy Lowe was targeted by a man named Azhar Ali Mehmood who was ten years older than her. At aged 14, Lucy gave birth to Tasnim, a daughter by her abuser. Two years later, aged 16, Lucy was pregnant again. One day, pregnant Lucy was at home with her father, mother, sister and baby. In the early hours of the morning, Mehmood set fire to the family home using petrol and setting it alight. Lucy’s father George escaped and the baby was later rescued, but Lucy, mother Eileen and sister Sarah were not so lucky. She was not the only one to die, but her story is one of the most horrific due to her family’s death. Mehmood was jailed for life. His daughter visited him in prison but says that he has now shown any remorse for his crimes and is upset that nothing was done to protect her mother. George Lowe tried to talk to his daughter but failed to get through, all whilst the police, school and social services did nothing. From the age of 12, Lowe was abused, raped and forced to grow up way too quickly, denied a chance at a fuller life through her tragic murder. Lucy is the real Tracy.

Telford MP Lucy Allan called for the inquiry back in September 2016 and is now calling for it again. With her support, we can hope that Parliament will actually do something. Like with Newcastle and with Rotherham, however, it seems that the victims will be forgotten again. Focusing our anger on this, sharing media that reports of these crimes and supporting victims is essential if we want Telford to be the last of its kind.

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