Police and council defend themselves after claims of teen exploitation in Weston-super-Mare
16:58 16 February 2017
Organisations designed to protect society’s most vulnerable have defended themselves this week in the wake of a damning investigation which claimed they were aware of the exploitation of teenage girls in Weston but did not step in.
A year-long BBC investigation revealed 15-year-old girls were employed by a Weston brothel to clean its rooms and advertise it.
The investigation found Avon and Somerset Constabulary and North Somerset Council knew Butterfly’s – which is commonly known in Weston to be a brothel – employed teenagers.
The Inside Out West programme heard from 19-year-old Amber who struggled with drugs when she was 15 and worked at the brothel in Alexandra Parade.
She would clean its rooms and hand out flyers. She said: “We’d basically dress like a load of prostitutes stood on a street corner.”
The BBC sent an undercover reporter to Butterfly’s where he was shown four women and quoted prices to have sex with them. The youngest said she was 18.
Amber said: “The way that it’s done is like a show – they’re ready to show off their bodies. A man would sit in a chair and all the women would walk in, in their underwear, and he’d get to pick which one he wanted.”
Butterfly’s declined to comment but the council’s director of people and communities, Sheila Smith, said she was unaware it operated as a brothel.
She added: “At the time, when she (Amber) came to us, we gave her both advice and very strong support about how dangerous that was.”
She said council staff passed information about teenagers working at Butterfly’s to police and has since received no fresh complaints of young girls working there.
The BBC also heard from a young girl who spoke of being sexually assaulted when she was just 14 after moving in with a man who was known to police and social services as a sexual predator.
The man in question is now dead but the BBC claimed he was involved in 35 sexual offences dating back to 2004, with his youngest victim just nine years old.
The girl told the BBC she went to social services in the wake of an alleged assault, and was asked if she wanted to shower and wash her clothes.
The victim said: “I got in the shower, so when I did see the police to give DNA I had nothing to give them because I had washed everything.”
The case was dropped due to lack of evidence.
The council’s own conduct also came under fire as the investigation revealed one of its employees responsible for scrutinising children’s services posted sexually violent content online and was not suspended.
He denies the allegations but later accepted voluntary redundancy.
A council spokesman said: “The only reason the individual was not suspended was because the police asked us not to so it could conduct its own investigation effectively.
“We let him carry on in a role in which he had no access to children and no access to confidential information about children.”
A police spokesman said the force takes safeguarding extremely seriously and they said any allegations or complaints surrounding safeguarding are fully investigated.