Failures behind Rotherham child abuse scandal revealed as 1,400 girls let down by police

22 June 2022, 12:02 | Updated: 22 June 2022, 13:48

Karen MacGregor, Arshid Hussain (the main gang leader jailed for 35 years) and Basharat Hussain, were all jailed
Karen MacGregor, Arshid Hussain (the main gang leader jailed for 35 years) and Basharat Hussain, were all jailed. Picture: South Yorkshire Police/Getty

By Daisy Stephens

The damning failures behind the Rotherham child abuse scandal has been revealed, with around 1,400 girls let down by police.

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The report revealed that, in one instance, the father of a 15-year-old suspected rape victim was told by an officer it would "teach her a lesson".

The attack was so brutal the teenager needed surgery afterwards.

In another case, the report found one parent concerned about a missing daughter was told by an officer "it was a 'fashion accessory' for girls in Rotherham to have an 'older Asian boyfriend' and that she would grow out of it".

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The long-awaited report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) also revealed not a single officer at South Yorkshire Police (SYP) was sacked despite a total of 256 allegations being made of police failures in relation to child sexual exploitation (CSE).

The report, published on Wednesday, concluded the force "failed to protect vulnerable children".

A total of 47 current and former officers were investigated by the IOPC after it was revealed at least 1,400 girls were abused, trafficked and groomed in the town between 1997 and 2013.

But the final report, published on Wednesday, confirmed that no officer lost their job despite 265 separate allegations being made by more than 50 complainants.

A teenage girl, who claims to be a victim of sexual abuse and alleged grooming, poses in Rotherham.
A teenage girl, who claims to be a victim of sexual abuse and alleged grooming, poses in Rotherham. Picture: Getty

The IOPC's investigation catalogued how teenagers were seen as "consenting" to their abuse by officers.

It led to the force prioritising other crimes, such as burglary and vehicle crime.

It also found "little evidence that SYP's leadership identified, and acted on, emerging concerns" about CSE.

After the report was published SYP admitted "we got it wrong and let victims down".

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IOPC director of major investigations Steve Noonan said: "Our report shows how SYP failed to protect vulnerable children and young people.

"Like other agencies in Rotherham at that time, it was simply not equipped to deal with the abuse and organised grooming of young girls on the scale we encountered."

Mr Noonan praised the survivors of CSE in Rotherham who came forward to help his investigators conduct the biggest inquiry the watchdog has undertaken apart from the Hillsborough disaster probe.

He said 51 people made complaints, including 44 survivors, involving 265 separate allegations.

Of the 47 officers investigated, eight were found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct.

Five of these officers received sanctions ranging from management action up to a final written warning. Another faced a South Yorkshire Police misconduct hearing earlier this year, and the case was found not proven by an independent panel.

In many cases, officers had retired and could not face disciplinary proceedings, the IOPC said. Only two cases reached the point of a public adjudication hearing.

Not a single officer was sacked
Not a single officer was sacked. Picture: Alamy

The IOPC identified systemic problems within South Yorkshire Police at the time, detailing how CSE in Rotherham was dealt with by a small "overwhelmed" unit, which had a number of other responsibilities.

IOPC director-general Michael Lockwood said in the report: "We found that officers were not fully aware, or able to deal with, Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation offences and showed insufficient empathy towards survivors who were vulnerable children and young people.

"We saw examples of SYP seeing children, and young people, as 'consenting' to their exploitation, and a police culture that did not always recognise survivors as victims, or understand that, often, neither did those being groomed or abused."

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South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings hit out at the report, saying: "I am disappointed that after eight years of very costly investigations, this report fails to make any significant recommendations over and above what South Yorkshire Police have already accepted and implemented from previous investigations some years ago.

"It repeats what past reports and reviews have shown - that there was unacceptable practice between 1997 and 2013 - but fails to identify any individual accountability.

"As a result, it lets down victims and survivors."

Dr Billings said: "A great deal of time and money has been spent for few new findings or accountability."

He said it was unfair officers have had allegations of misconduct "hanging over them for so long", but said the force was now "on a path of continuous improvement".

South Yorkshire's deputy chief constable Tim Forber said: "We fully accept the findings of the IOPC report which closely reflects those highlighted by Professor Alexis Jay in 2014.

"The Jay Report brought a stark reality of our failings in handling CSE. We let victims of CSE down. We failed to recognise their vulnerability and failed to see them as victims, for that I am deeply sorry. They deserved better from us.

"The brave accounts of these girls caused a seismic change in policing crimes of this nature for South Yorkshire Police and the wider police service."

Mr Forber said: "Whilst I am confident we are a very different force today, I will not lose sight of the fact that we got it wrong and we let victims down."

David Greenwood, a solicitor representing 80 Rotherham CSE survivors said: "It shows the British public the level of disregard shown by South Yorkshire Police to female victims of sexual exploitation, it explains that even by the pathetically low standards of the police service it was 'okay' to not investigate these crimes properly or at all, and it will demonstrate how the system of police complaints has provided zero accountability and needs reform."

Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said: "The IOPC’s report today points to systemic failures in the investigation of child sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as worrying gaps in training, leadership and victim support. It is very clear that vulnerable victims were failed by a system that should have been there to protect them.

"Years on from these historic failings, sadly child sexual exploitation is still rife and many of the lessons have not been learned. In the last five years we have seen a huge increase in the number of children identified as victims of modern slavery and exploitation, but in the same period the number of prosecutions against traffickers has dropped.

"Urgent action is needed from the Home Office and across Government to ensure that vile traffickers are prosecuted and victims of all exploitation, but particularly children, are given the protection they need and deserve."