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Wycombe's top cop hits back at Ribbon criticism
WYCOMBE’S police chief has hit back at criticism of the way the Operation Ribbon child sex ring case was handled.
The Justice4Paps group has questioned the way the case was conducted by Thames Valley Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The group believes the failure to state the victim’s ethnicity "racialised the narrative about sexual exploitation cases" and it questioned the timing of the raids - which took place the day after a Panorama programme on TVP’s stop and search process.
The group, which was launched in 2008 following the death of Habib Ullah in police custody, asked if the force would be issuing an apology to the accused and suggested the police and press had "buried" the story.
Seven men were exonerated and three others partially cleared of abusing a High Wycombe girl for nearly five years. The CPS decided not to push for a retrial against the outstanding charges the three men faced.
But Superintendent Gilbert Houalla was unshakeable as he spelt out his position on the case this week, after a critical blog appeared on a racial justice website.
He said: "No there will not be an apology - what is it I’m apologising for? Our job is to investigate crime and that’s what we did.
"We gave it to the CPS for a decision and they deemed the evidence was appropriate to take to court. So what is that I’m apologising for?
"Justice4Paps clearly has an issue with an event that took place in Wycombe and I respect and accept that. I’m not sure, on this instance, it’s helpful for them to appear to be resisting police taking action against people accused of rape. I think they may have ridden the wrong horse."
The Wycombe Commander said officers had "no idea" Panorama was to be aired the night before the first raids in November last year until the last minute.
"There is always a difficult balance to strike when you decide to take action. Someone makes an allegation about named people who are at large in the community", he said.
"If we go too soon, we won’t get a conviction and if we go too late, they could commit further offences and then people say ‘you knew, why didn’t you arrest them?’ You're damned if you do and damned if you don’t."
Supt Houalla said he has never revealed the ethnicity of any victim in any crime, a policy he will continue: "What relevance is the victim’s ethnicity to the offence? It’s totally irrelevant."
"You only have to open the newspapers this week to see who is in court for alleged sexual offences, you will find they come in all colours and ages."
And he rubbished claims Ribbon and the issue of child exploitation had been buried.
He said: "We held regular meetings with community leaders and the press to update and inform them. It’s not only frustrating but bewildering."
The Free Press attended - along with Steve Baker MP, representatives from councils, mosques, children’s charities and other groups - three meetings at Wycombe Police Station during Ribbon.
The BFP also took part in a briefing the day before the first raid. The Free Press maintains its coverage - in print and online - of the arrests and trial was appropriate, proportionate and balanced throughout.
This includes reports of the not guilty verdicts, which appeared online within minutes of the jury’s rulings, and the CPS decision not to push for a retrial.
The BFP approached the legal representatives of the majority of the defendants for comment but lawyers declined our offer.
The Wycombe One Community group decided not to comment ‘for fear of opening old wounds’.
Justice4Paps was contacted by the BFP for a response to Supt Houalla's comments. The group indicated it would issue a statement in due course.
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