CHILDREN and young people at the centre of a major PSNI inquiry into sexual exploitation were “trafficked” by taxi from one party to another to be abused, a top cop has revealed.
And suspects quizzed over the allegations – men in the early 20s – were not previously known to police, a Stormont committee has heard on Monday.
MLAs were told that young people were plied with drink and drugs and then made to repay their “debts” by performing “sexual acts” on strangers.
To date more than 30 people across Northern Ireland have been arrested as part of the investigation.
The probe centres on allegations that 22 young people may have been abused.
The joint health and justice committee was hearing evidence from police chiefs and health experts on the inquiry which started over three years.
Detectives are reviewing cases where young people have gone missing from the care system over the past 18 months.
Some of the of the 22 alleged victims not living within the care system at the time of the suspected offences.
Health expert Dr Helen Beckett revealed that Barnado’s charity was working with around 60 young people at present.
She said that sexual exploitation was mainly carried out by strangers although sometimes family members were involved.
It was very rare for a young person to report the abuse, which was usually spotted by a professional, a parent or a friend, she said.
The committee was told that “grooming” of young people could take place over a very long time.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said there was evidence of children being put in a taxi and sent to another “party”.
He said the police investigation statred in June 2012.
“This inquiry will spread as we identify more risks or as we identify more people we want to look at,” he said.