SOCIETY should not be afraid to discuss the “worrying trend” of grooming cases involving Asian men, a senior police officer has said.

Speaking after the conviction of three men for sexually exploiting under-age teenage girls in Middlesbrough, Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Best, head of crime at Cleveland Police, said research showed white men were responsible for most of the region's grooming cases.

However, he added: “That's what the analysis shows us but with the high-profile cases that there have been nationally, there does appear to be a worrying trend in relation to the number of cases involving Asian males.”

Det Chief Supt Best said the trend needed to be addressed, adding: “We shouldn't be afraid to say that and equally I'm hoping that all communities will pull together to recognise this is a problem for society - not for a particular group.

“All of our jobs as adults is to protect children.”

Wendy Shepherd, North-East children’s service manager at Barnardo’s, also stressed that although the guilty men were Asian in this case, on-street grooming and sexual exploitation was not a problem exclusive to one particular ethnic group.

“It has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with the fact that we have men that want to groom and harm children.

“In this case it happened to be Asian men, but we need to raise awareness in all sections of our community that this is not acceptable.”

Mrs Shepherd said staff at the charity’s Sexual Exploitation of Children on the Streets project in Middlesbrough were already working with the victims and would give them all the help they needed to recover from their experiences.

“When you have young people who have been sexually exploited on top of the grooming they are likely to be emotionally harmed.”

Mrs Shepherd paid tribute to the girls for speaking out about the abuse.

“I’m pleased that these young people have been brave and courageous to do this.

“These convictions send out a very strong message that you’re not going to groom and sexually exploit young people in this area - we won’t tolerate this.”