LONDON (AFP) - A massive new British paedophile scandal that could involve hundreds of victims is to be the subject of an independent investigation "to get to the truth", the interior ministry said on Friday (March 16).
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse follows newspaper revelations that young girls had been targeted in the English town of Telford since the 1980s.
The inquiry will "expose what has gone wrong and learn lessons for the future", including "institutional responses to child sexual exploitation by organised networks", a ministry spokesman told AFP.
"This was a truly terrible case of some of the most vulnerable in our society being preyed upon by ruthless criminals," said the spokesman as public anger mounted over the scandal.
Up to 1,000 children, including some as young as 11-years-old, were assaulted and raped, sometimes by gangs, in this town of 170,000 inhabitants located near Birmingham, the Sunday Mirror reported.
Two teenagers and their mother were murdered and two other youngsters died in tragedies linked to the scandal, it reported.
The newspaper alleged that police and other local authorities had failed to properly investigate the network.
It accused council staff of viewing abused and trafficked children as "prostitutes" and said officials had avoided passing on information about the abusers to Asian communities for fear of being accused of "racism".
Speaking to MPs on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We have all been shocked" by the "horrific" case.
The inquiry will examine what institutions could have done to protect the children.
One 14-year-old told the paper that she was groomed and abused after her phone number was sold to paedophiles.
"I hated what was happening and my abusers made my skin crawl but I was told that if I said a word to anyone they'd come for my little sisters and tell my mum I was a prostitute," she said. "Night after night, I was forced to have sex with multiple men in disgusting takeaways and filthy houses.
"I fell pregnant twice and had two abortions. Hours after my second termination, I was taken by one of my abusers to be raped by more men," she added.
Telford's Conservative MP Lucy Allan demanded a public inquiry over the "extremely serious and shocking" findings.
"These young girls, too often, are white, working class, with multiple vulnerabilities and that is why the perpetrators are targeting them," she told MPs.