POLICE probing allegations of child sex crimes against three teenagers say they have ‘lifted the lid’ on a wider problem and found up to 30 youngsters at risk in the area.
Detectives launched a probe in May when three men were arrested in Havant, over abuse allegations.
Concerned over how children may be put at risk, officers launched a wider probe looking at kebab shops in Havant, Waterlooville and Portsmouth – fearing youngsters could be groomed at them.
That has led to Istanbul Grill in Waterlooville being ordered by Havant council to stop serving by 11pm after what the council described as a ‘failure in the management of the premises... in particular in relation to the prevention of crime and disorder and the protection of children from harm’.
The kebab shop is appealing the decision at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court.
Now, shocked by their wider findings police fear the problem could be more widespread – and have identified between 20 and 30 children at risk.
Chief inspector Clare Jenkins, Havant district commander, said: ‘We’ve chosen to lift the lid on it.’
She added: ‘The risk is that we potentially have a group of vulnerable people together who can be influenced by people with another agenda, by perhaps older people, and then they find themselves in risky situations.
‘Signs of exploitation may include befriending, giving gifts – which can include food, alcohol, drugs – and isolating that person from their peer group.’
Other signs of possible exploitation include older men offering girls lifts in their cars, Ch Insp Jenkins said.
Action taken to tackle the problem – which police say is not just isolated to the wider Portsmouth area – included:
n Training of roads police officers to spot abusers by looking at age differences between drivers and passengers.
n Police on 999 response calls given advice to spot signs of exploitation.
n Workshops have been run by organisations on the streets with children.
Kebab shops in the area have also been reported to HMRC, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Trading Standards and Immigration Enforcement, Ch Insp Jenkins said.
She added: ‘All of whom have taken some enforcement action.’
The work carried out under Operation Makesafe – which launched a year ago working with licensed premises – is soon to be rolled out across the county.
Ch Insp Jenkins said: ‘The children are in one place, people with a propensity to groom know where to find them.
‘We want to run Op Makesafe Two. The focus will really be around late-night refreshment places and serving alcohol – the staff have a responsibility around their customers and have a responsibility around their own staff and how they interact with customers and bout being professional.’
Hasan Demirkol, licence holder and owner of Istanbul Grill for 10 years, said: ‘If I was in the wrong I wouldn’t appeal.’
He said he had complied with changes police asked him to make, had replaced all staff, and had not seen any wrongdoing taking place on his premises.