TOWN hall safeguarding chiefs were left in the dark while police launched an investigation into child grooming in the borough.

Bury Council's children's safeguarding overview project group was given an update by the anti-child sexual exploitation (CSE) body Project Phoenix last summer.

The organisation, described as a "multi-agency response" of public and voluntary sector organisation in Greater Manchester, reported the the number of referrals into the service had reduced.

But in February this year police revealed a task force was set up after police identified a pattern of abuse, and the multi-agency Phoenix CSE team has been working to identify offences and suspects and providing specialist support to victims.

A number of arrests were made by police investigating reports that vulnerable, underage girls are being plied with alcohol and drugs and being sexually abused by groups of men in the Clarence Park and Openshaw Park areas.

At a meeting of Bury Council's overview and scrutiny committee last night (Tuesday) chair Cllr Robert Caserta, said the revelations came as "a shock" to him — and questioned why the council was not entrusted with the information.

He said: "We find out that nine people have been arrested in Bury parks for grooming children and the case is ongoing from June 2017, or at least the investigation was, so the two things don't tally."

And, addressing Cllr Susan Southworth, chair of the safeguarding overview project group , he continued: "Are we getting the feedback we need? We are the people's representatives here, we should be trusted to keep secrets, we need to know what's going on in our borough."

Cllr Southworth asked if he felt the group was asking "incisive questions" of the Phoenix Project.

He added: "That's the difficulty, knowing what to ask in a reasonable polite way — but you trust people to give you the response and to explain it, but obviously we have not been. This was a shock to me when it popped up."

And Cllr Caserta warned that people should be mindful that a "customs barrier at Heap Bridge" does not exist.

He said: "This has been going on in Rochdale, Oldham, Blackpool and Bolton and yet Bury had been this little island stuck out on it's own — then lo and behold this pops up. If we are not being fed the information from the Phoenix team , then what's the point?

"She told us in the summer everything was fine when cases were ongoing and it's not given us any confidence that there are not others. What we need and Susan needs is the information , we don't need all the details but we should be informed that situations are ongoing."

Cllr Jackie Harris echoed Cllr Caserta's concerns.

She said: "I get that there's a process but, at the end of the day, people will say 'what's the point in being there is a situation going on and we don't know about it. We have to look at it very seriously and say 'what are you doing to prevent things like this happening'"

Cllr Harris continued: "I fear for children's safety and obviously we are not really doing our job, and that's what I'm concerned about."

Cllr Southworth said it would be something the group could "raise strongly" at the next meeting with the Phoenix Project.

Further problems relating to safeguarding were also raised at the meeting.

Cllr Caserta told the committee it had answers to questions raised as a result of the Newsam report into the council's handling of paedophile former councillor Simon Carter.

But while the questions themselves were not known , leaving the council with an "incomplete situation" and not knowing whether the answers were right.

Cllr Caserta added that he had gone to great lengths to acquire the questions, but to no avail, Members agreed they should the questions should be pursued by the safeguarding overview project group.

The issue was taken up by Cllr Harris, who said: The whole thing is hugely serious, we have spent a lot of money, we have spent a lot of money looking into this.

"I think we really need some answers but we also need the questions to go with them. The whole thing seems absurd, we can't just let it go, it's too important — we are talking about safeguarding children."