In August, two young friends from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, were walking through the town when a group of men pulled up alongside them and ordered them to “get in the car”. I recently spoke to one of the girls, 15 year old Ellie Reynolds, who despite having reported the incident to police, had had no contact from them when I met her on December 5th. She also told me she is almost certain that the same has happened to other girls in the town since then.
It wasn’t only one car either. Phone-calls were made and more arrived. Ellie took photographs of some of these cars, but the police, when I interviewed her, had still not looked at them. Part of the description of the men provided by Ellie: “like Turks”.
The details of the story are these.
On the 8th of August, Ellie and a 13 year old friend were walking through Barrow-in-Furness, close to their home. A silver car pulled up alongside them and the men inside shouted at them to get in. When they refused, one of them said Ellie’s name and told her he “had her details anyway”. She had never seen these men before and had no idea who they were, nor had her friend. Understandably very shaken by this, she suggested to me that its possible that girls are being sought out on social media sites. She and her friends are avid Facebookers so yes, it’s possible.
Both girls’ families reported the incident to police on the day it happened. I did not speak to the 13 year old girl, but Ellie had still not heard from them in December, despite chasing several times. Police told the Reynolds family that they had called to the house to find nobody home, but no note was left and there was no attempt to contact them either before or after this supposed visit.
Theresa McMeekin is a friend of the family and said that she too had phoned the police saying she had copies of the photos and asking if they wanted to see them. She said they told her that as she wasn’t directly connected to the case, she could not report it. On hearing this, the Reynolds’ contacted police again and were told they would be visited – they weren’t.
McMeekin posted details about it on her Facebook page, only to find out later that the post hadn’t been made public. Ellie also wrote about it on Facebook to warn her friends. She soon found herself attacked for “racism”. She told me “it was like I was the one in the wrong for reporting it”.
Theresa McMeekin has a young daughter soon starting secondary school, and police were kind enough to advise her that she should warn her daughter of “stranger danger generally” without mentioning any ethnicity. They are on the ball on some matters then.
When a local journalist contacted Barrow police to follow up on Ellie’s complaint, he was told “The victim did not wish to pursue the complaint further”. Ellie Reynolds said this is completely untrue. She was still waiting for them to contact her.
The Police and Crime Commissioner for the area is Conservative Peter McCall. He was sent an email on September 23rd with a detailed description of both the incident involving the girls, and the lack of police response. Theresa McMeekin stated in the email that she represented worried parents in the area, but she didn’t hear back until she chased him on Twitter on October 31st. At that point, he replied “Once we have the police response, they come to me so that I see them with the facts/issues so that I can give you a more informed answer. I have just checked and we are expecting the response from the constabulary imminently. I do appreciate that this does seem slow but you will understand that they get many questions from the public all of which take police time to answer and some are very complex. I am keen to have honest and open dialogue with the public and very much welcome your engagement. As soon as I have the response to your particular concerns we will write and if that doesn’t answer your questions I’d be very pleased to chat.”
I wrote to Chief Constable Jeremy Graham on December 9th and asked him about the above. (You can read the reply on the link provided). I have learned since that the Reynolds family has finally had that contact from police that they’d been promised for so long.
What do we learn from all of this? Firstly, that there is a very real probability that the grooming gang crimes are expanding in to new areas and towns in the north of England. Secondly, as with Rotherham and elsewhere, there is simply no adequate police action. Nothing has changed since the Jay Report.
To top it off, basic bread-and-butter policing, such as providing descriptions, is subject to concerns that the description might be of someone from a minority group. It is incredibly dangerous for a society if facts about crimes are kept quiet for fear of being thought ‘controversial’ or ‘unhelpful’.
The only answer to this is common sense and impartial policing, but just as importantly, a real and robust way for members of the public to hold police to account. This horror has gone on for too long.