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30 December 2014, 15:12
Hotels and B&Bs in Cherwell will link together under a new Thames Valley Police scheme that aims to tackle child sexual exploitation.
The scheme, named Hotel Watch, aims to replicate the way public houses are linked in Pub Watch schemes.
Hotel and B&B owners will hold regular quarterly meetings with police officers to share information and concerns, including about child sexual exploitation, with each other.
The hoteliers will also be added to the Force’s Thames Valley Alert scheme, which will allow officers to send targeted messages out to them.
Hotel Watch will launch in Cherwell in early January, and senior officers hope the trial could lead to it being rolled out elsewhere in the Thames Valley.
Inspector Katrina Hibbert, from Banbury Police Station, said: “The idea is for hoteliers and the police to join together as a network, so that we can share information and alert one another of any concerns.
“My hope is that Hotel Watch will help us to build closer relationships with the hotel industry, which will help to identify offences and, most importantly, protect vulnerable people.”
It is hoped that Hotel Watch will also help hoteliers and police tackle other crimes committed in hotels and B&Bs, such as people leaving without paying and criminal damage.
So far, 25 hoteliers have signed up to the scheme. PCSOs will visit those who have not yet signed up in the New Year to encourage them to join.
Insp Hibbert said the idea for Hotel Watch came to her after meeting with hoteliers during a series of seminars in the spring.
She said: “We established that some of the owners already had an informal network in place to meet and inform each other of incidents, but that it was a minority of hoteliers involved and the information was not being shared with police.”
The seminars were set up following the Operation Bullfinch convictions earlier this year and informed hotel and B&B owners about child sexual exploitation and what to do if they suspect it is happening in their premises.
An East Oxford hotel was named in court as the location used by the Bullfinch gang members to abuse teenage girls.
Debbie Whitford runs Avonlea Guest House in Banbury and was part of the seven-strong group of hoteliers that inspired the creation of Hotel Watch.
She said: “Any joint scheme is a good idea.
“It will be good to be open with the police and with each other about what is going on, the sort of people coming in and what to look out for.
“It will also just be good to have a point of contact in case anything does happen.”
She added: “I think after Bullfinch, and particularly after the seminars, most of my colleagues would be very, very wary of exploitation and would pick up on it very quickly.”
Supt Kath Lowe, area commander for Cherwell and West Oxfordshire, said: “Hotel Watch is a great idea. Not only will it allow us to work more closely with hoteliers, but it could also disrupt offending and prevent child sexual exploitation in our area.
“If Hotel Watch works well in Cherwell, I would like to see it rolled out to West Oxfordshire and potentially beyond.”