An independent report has found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham by gangs of men who were predominantly of Pakistani origin between 1997 and 2013.

Report author Professor Alexis Jay said that girls as young as 11 were raped by “large numbers of male perpetrators”. It spoke of the “collective failures” of political, police and social care leadership over the first 12 years the inquiry covered. These are the key developments of the past 17 years.

In the early to mid-90s, community workers come across examples of child sexual exploitation during this period. It was known that children under the care of the local authority were at risk of being targeted.

In 1997, the Risky Business youth project was set up to work with people between the ages of 11 and 25 in Rotherham amid concerns about young people being abused through prostitution. By the late 1990s it starts to identify vulnerable girls and young women on the streets of the town, and refers to children’s social care any young person who causes serious concerns.

In the early 00’s a small group of professionals from key agencies met children at risk of, or involved in, child sexual exploitation (CSE) but their work was not properly supported. Some of those at a senior level in children’s social care and in the police thought youth workers are exaggerating the extent of the issue.

In 2002, a chapter of a draft report into CSE in Rotherham – referred to as The Home Office Report – contained severe criticisms of agencies working to tackle such crimes. It showed there was a “high prevalence of young women being coerced and abused through prostitution”.

Senior officers at the council and in the police were unhappy with The Home Office Report, with the suggestion some facts were either exaggerated or made up. The researcher writing the report did not complete her work. However the Jay report says the content which was objected to, has been shown to be “largely accurate”.

The Jay report states: “Had this [2002 draft] report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice.”

In 2003, a report by strategic drugs analyst Dr Angie Heal, commissioned by South Yorkshire Police, finds there are a “significant number of girls and some boys who are being sexually exploited” in Rotherham.

In a later report, in 2006, Dr Heal describes the situation continuing “as it has done for a number of years” with an organised and established sexual exploitation scene.

In September 2003, the Area Child Protection Committee approved revised procedures relating to the sexual exploitation of children. The Sexual Exploitation Forum was set up later in 2003, holding monthly meetings to discuss cases of children who were being sexually exploited or are at risk.

Between November 2004 and early 2005, presentations on CSE were made to the council’s children’s executive group, the children and young people’s board and the safeguarding board. An action plan was called for. In April 2005, a seminar on CSE was held for all council members. A new department of children and young people’s services was created with Councillor Shaun Wright appointed cabinet member for the department. By June 2005, the Sexual Exploitation Forum were discussing more than 90 cases and it was decided that the number being considered should be reduced. This followed an audit of 87 CSE cases carried out by police on behalf of the forum.

In April 2007, an investigation into the grooming and sexual abuse of young boys identified more than 70 alleged victims. A man was convicted of offences against 10 children. In December 2007, the forum learned that Risky Business is “inundated” with referrals, all of them relating to young people under the age of 18, and some of whom were in care. Risky Business was said to be under pressure from those who referred the children.

By 2008 Operation Central was set up to investigate men believed to be involved in child sexual exploitation. Funding for Risky Business was increased. In autumn 2009, Ofsted rated Rotherham’s children’s services as “inadequate” as the safety of children cannot be assured.  By December 2009, the Minister of State for Young People and Families served the council with an improvement notice for its children’s safeguarding services. It was lifted in January 2011.

In April 2010 the local Safeguarding Children Board sets up a child sexual exploitation sub group. Five men were convicted for sexual offences against girls in 2010.  In November 2020, five men from Rotherham’s Asian community were jailed for sexual offences against teenage girls.

In September 2012 The Times published an investigation revealing that a confidential 2010 police report had warned thousands of child sexual exploitation crimes were being committed in South Yorkshire each year by networks of Asian men. The newspaper also reported that police and child protection agencies in the town of Rotherham had extensive knowledge of such crimes for decades, yet offences went unprosecuted. South Yorkshire Police deny withholding information and say the suggestion it was reluctant to tackle child sexual abuse is wrong.

In October 2012, Rotherham Borough Council, South Yorkshire Police and other agencies set up a CSE team to investigate the issues raised in the report and the police force denied it had been reluctant to tackle child sexual abuse but the Home Affairs Select Committee told the chief constable and one of his top officers to “get a grip” on the issue. Council chief executive Martin Kimber apologised to young people who were “let down”

In January 2013, the Chief Executive of the council appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions about the lack of prosecutions, with Chairman Keith Vaz saying the council had not done enough since the 2010 prosecutions. Council chief executive Martin Kimber blamed “systematic failures” as he apologised to victims and their families.

In August 2013, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright announced three reviews of child sexual abuse in the South Yorkshire Police area. Four women sued the council for failing to protect them when they were children and in September 2013, the council announced it was commissioning an independent inquiry. It was later announced that Professor Alexis Jay would lead the inquiry team. On 26th August 2014 Professor Alexis Jay’s report was published. Rotherham Borough Council leader Roger Stone stepped down with immediate effect. Mr Wright says he will stay in his job as police commissioner despite calls for him to stand down.  Deputy Police Commissioner Tracey Cheetham resigned her post and stated “it’s the right thing” for Shaun Wright to step down.

Article source: BBC News 26/8/14

Related Blog Articles