Conservatives on Kirklees Council say the findings of an independent report into a sex grooming scandal can only be “a first step” towards eradicating child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the borough.

And they have reiterated their call for a cross-partner approach that might have included participation by the police as well as other council departments.

Dr Mark Peel, chair of Leeds Safeguarding Children Partnership, published his report yesterday following a four-month period of investigation.

He found that what he described as “the cycle of exploitation” went undetected and unrecorded by skilled and experienced social workers and managers with Kirklees Council’s Children’s Services department.

And he said despite staff being told by victims that they were being abused, they did not act on the evidence, which meant a chance to uncover the CSE ring was missed.

Reacting to Dr Peel’s report Clr David Hall, leader of the Conservative group on Kirklees Council, said it was “vital” that the authority tackled the reasons why the grooming gang was able to abuse young girls “with impunity”.

Twenty Asian men were sentenced to more than 200 years in prison last year after being found guilty of child sex offences including rape.

Another man was jailed earlier this year, bringing the total to 21.

“It is important that we, as a council, put in place all the support we can to past victims, and also to our present children to ensure they are as safe as we can make them,” said Clr Hall on behalf of the Conservative group.

“But it is also vital, given the common background of the offenders, that the council tackles the reasons why they felt able to commit these crimes with impunity and without fear of being reported or detected.

“This will demand an open and mature approach which cannot dodge delicate issues of community or race.”

He said it was “too early” to give a detailed response to Dr Peel’s review, or to pass comment until the victims have been heard.

“It is important to say, however, that these are a first step in the process, the conclusion of which will be to ensure that there are no further instances of Child Sexual Exploitation in this borough.

“There needs to be a period where we can verify the evidence put forward, including the consideration of the police’s own investigations and records from other Kirklees departments such as housing and health.

“We would have liked a more cross-partner approach to this from the start.”

Dr Peel based his report entirely on social work case files. He did not review police files or those held by schools.

He also did not interview any of the victims or staff of Kirklees Children’s Services.

Dr Peel suggested that there should be “a comprehensive review” of all target historic CSE case files held by Kirklees Children’s Services beyond the 22 girls featured in the court case.

And he said that his independent review “should in no way be seen as an alternative to a public inquiry”.

Chief Executive of Kirklees Council, Jacqui Gedman, apologised to victims on behalf of the authority.

She said: “We absolutely agree with Dr Peel that a small number of the cases could, and should, have been handled differently at the time and on behalf of the council I want to apologise to the girls that we let down.

“This is a common theme in reviews of historic cases around the country and we must all ensure that we learn from the past.

“We now have a much greater understanding of the risks and issues involved in CSE and we can be confident that the progress of recent years would lead to very different actions today.”