More than 40 arrests have been made during almost 20 ongoing investigations into child sexual exploitation by grooming gangs in the Bradford district.

Police yesterday revealed that 18 investigations into child sexual exploitation by such gangs were ongoing across the Bradford district and 41 arrests had been made so far.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “As yet, there have been no charges, or trials pending, but these are all live investigations.”

The spokesman added that officers in Keighley and Bradford had been undertaking a complex operation to catch those responsible for child sexual exploitation since November 2012. Most are currently on bail.

Statistics released earlier this year showed there had been 166 arrests for all types of child sexual exploitation between March 2012 and March 2013, but only 25 people had been charged.

In June, West Yorkshire Police launched a major campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation, ‘Know The Signs’.

Bradford Council’s deputy leader, Councillor Imran Hussain, in charge of Safer and Stronger Communities, said offenders would feel the full force of the law.

Coun Hussain said: “Clearly these are very, very serious offences and are top priority for both the police and the Council.

“Anybody who is involved in these offences will be caught and prosecuted. They are just inexcusable and will continue to be a top priority for us.”

Detective Chief Inspector Terry Long, of the Bradford District Safeguarding Unit, said: “Bradford District has a dedicated team working exclusively with social care and other support services to investigate any concerns relating to child sexual exploitation.

“While this partnership work is developing, the investigation requires the co-operation of the public in reporting suspicious behaviour or where there are safeguarding concerns about young children.

“Anyone with such information or concerns is asked to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.”

The news comes as a Keighley religious leader urged local people to stay strong and united in the run-up to what he warned would be a major Keighley child grooming trial in the New Year.

The Reverend Dr Jonathan Pritchard, of All Saints’ Church, Highfield, Keighley, said: “We know in the New Year that a storm is coming – a very serious trial concerning grooming in our town. We know from our experience of what has happened in Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford that when this hits the courts a media circus will come to town.

“It will put us under great pressure.”

Addressing dozens of people during an open day at Keighley’s Emily Street Mosque, he said: “That is why we need to meet together like this, so we can face this as a united people.

“Grooming is not about Asians or Muslims – it’s about individuals doing despicable things. These individuals have been condemned in the mosques without reserve, and we stand united with the mosques in saying that this is wrong.”