Grooming Gang Victim’s Mother: Police Ignored Pleas to Find Charlene Because She Was Working Class

charlene downes
Lancashire Police

The mother of Charlene Downes, the 14-year-old Blackpool girl who police suspect was groomed for sex and it is claimed was ground up for kebab meat by her killers, believes her original pleas to find her daughter were ignored because she was working class.

“The police came but they just dismissed Charlene as a runaway. They wouldn’t put her picture in the paper or on TV. It was six weeks later that her disappearance was made public,” Karen Downes told the Daily Mail in the run-up to the fifteenth anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance.

“When Madeleine McCann went missing it made global headlines overnight. Of course I feel dreadfully sorry for her parents.

“But was my daughter not worth the same? I can’t help feeling we were sidelined because we are uneducated and working class.”

Similar complaints have been made by the survivors and relatives of victims of grooming gangs across the country, who said that police dismissed their complaints because the young girls were seen as trouble-makers, runaways, and sometimes even child prostitutes complicit in their own abuse.

Charlene Downes, from the seaside resort town of Blackpool in north-west England, was 14 years old when she went missing. She was last seen on North Pier on November 1st, 2003.

Police believed Charlene was groomed by a gang for sexual exploitation and may have been raped by up to 100 men before she was murdered. Her body has never been found.

Years later, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found that errors in gathering evidence had contributed to the collapse of suspects’ trials in 2007, with Lancashire Police being criticised and officers disciplined.

At the time of her disappearance, Mrs Downes said she was “so despairing of the lack of interest in Charlene” that she took to the streets herself to give out leaflet “night after night.”

“Sometimes it felt as though I was the only one looking for her.”

In the course of investigations, there have been five arrests — the most recent in 2017, the suspect later released — and two trials but no convictions have been secured.

The 2007 trial of Funny Boyz kebab takeaway shop owners Iyad Albattikhi, a Jordanian, and Mohammed Reveshi, an Iranian, resulted in the jury failing to reach a verdict and the retrial collapsing amidst criticism of the police investigation. Albattikhi and Reveshi received six-figure sums in compensation for false imprisonment.

Mrs Downes reflected on the trials, saying she was “still haunted by the horrors I heard in court”.

“It was suggested in court too that, after she was killed, her body had been cut up and mixed into kebabs.

“It was horrific to listen to. As a mother, it almost broke me.”

Released to coincide with the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance on Thursday, Mrs Downes has published a book on her family’s ordeals, Sold in Secret, hoping the book will be “a wake-up call about the grooming gangs in the hope it never happens to any other family.”

“I’d like to think grooming isn’t an issue in Blackpool anymore, but it probably is,” she added.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard McCutcheon said Lancashire Police “remains committed” to Charlene’s case.

“We will continue to not only focus on her disappearance and murder but also on the wider issue of child sexual exploitation in Blackpool, for which we have now secured a number of successful convictions against men who have abused vulnerable teenage girls,” Det Ch Insp McCutcheon added.

Anyone with information should contact Lancashire Police’s incident room on 01253 607370 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or email charlenedownesinvestigation@lancashire.pnn.police.uk

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