THE Barrow community is demanding answers to growing concerns a grooming gang is operating in the town.

A petition, which had last night been signed by more than 12,000 people, is calling on the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) to launch 'a full scale, investigation into allegations of organised child sex abuse in Barrow and the links to a larger operation across the country'.

The call comes just hours after a protest rally was held on the town's Hindpool Retail Park on Saturday.

Hundreds of people turned out to show their support to victims of sexual abuse by beeping their horns and handing out leaflets.

The strength of feeling in Barrow has been so strong businesses have been ordering posters to display their support, online trolls have been targeting anyone deemed unsupportive of the campaign and vandals have been leaving derogatory graffiti about the police on walls in the town.

Former Greater Manchester Police detective turned anti-grooming campaigner Maggie Oliver has lent her support to the campaign which was started after a girl in her late teens took to social media last week to report allegations of horrific physical and sexual abuse.

The woman, claimed she had been beaten, burned, drugged and trafficked for sex throughout the north of England by a gang of Asian men.

She posted graphic pictures of injuries including bruises, scratches and burn marks. Her post caused an outpouring of anger and support on social media and was widely shared.

Police in Barrow responded to the post by confirming a year long investigation had found ‘no evidence’ of a gang of men exploiting young women in Barrow. In a video statement, Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden, head of crime and safeguarding at Cumbria Police, said the investigation had also been subjected to an independent peer review, which found no major faults in Cumbria Police’s handling of the investigation.

The petition on reads: “In light of recent events, and the seeming incompetence of the local police force that is all too familiar when we consider the infamous cases of sustained and systematic child abuse in this country, we - the people of Barrow and indeed the entire UK - compel you to act.

“We demand that the IOPC and the NCA launch a full-scale, independent investigation into allegations of organised child sexual abuse in the town of Barrow and it’s links to a larger operation across the country.”

Maggie Oliver told talkRadio about the situation in Barrow: “Secrecy and hidden truths surround this subject. My role is to keep this in the public arena. This is destroying thousands and thousands of lives. It is very common for victims of sexual abuse to be fobbed off. Trust and confidence in the authorities to deal with this kind of abuse is critical.

“It is a lot more difficult to conceal the truth now. We’re in the age of the internet and social media, so the message can’t be controlled in the same way.

“There is an idea this is ‘historical’ - this is not historical at all. We need to continue to prosecute paedophiles, wherever they come from.

"We cannot only allow the Crown Prosecution Service to only prosecute the easiest cases.”

Simon Fell, MP for Barrow, said: “Concerns are understandably high at the moment. But if you think you know something, or that someone has committed a crime, then the best thing you can do is to make sure that you come forward because that’s the only way that people can be brought to justice.

"So, please reach out. You can tell the police (999 for emergencies, 101 non-emergency), alert Crimestoppers (0800 555 111), or approach Women’s Community Matters in Barrow (01229 311 102).”

If you have been a victim of crime there any many charities and services that can help.

Victim Support Supportline: 0333 300 6389 Childline: 0800 1111 Samaritans: 116 123 Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247 HOPELINEUK 08000684141 Mind: 0300 123 3393 Age UK: 0800 169 6565 Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30) Victim Support Supportline: 0333 300 6389 The Survivors Trust Helpline: 0808 801 0818 For Men Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30 & 7-9.30)