One thousand four hundred girls were abused, trafficked and groomed in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
But not one police officer, past or present, lost their job – despite more than 200 allegations of police failures.
Today victims and survivors responded angrily to the publication of a report by the police watchdog into what went wrong, because – they say – the investigation, which took eight years and cost £6 million, hasn’t held anyone fully accountable.
As the long-awaited report in to officers’ mishandling of widespread child sex abuse in Rotherham finds that South Yorkshire Police were guilty of systemic failings, victims and residents were asked how they felt about their home town and the police force charged with protecting them.
In 2014, the report highlighted how 1,400 young girls were sexually abused in Rotherham. The abuse had spanned 16 years. In response to this revelation, multiple inquiries into the way police and other authorities responded were commissioned.
The latest report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct – an eight-year probe that considered 265 separate complaints against current and former officers – has found the force was ill-equipped to understand or tackle the plight of hundreds of vulnerable children.
Some have criticised the costly investigation, which ultimately resulted in no officer losing their job., though a handful of sanctions were handed down.
While some feel that individuals have emerged from the process unscathed, Rotherham itself has not escaped untarnished from its dark recent history.
Now, when people talk about Rotherham they don’t mention its mining heritage, its historic market or its 15th Century minster. Instead, it is known by many as being the centre of a shameful abuse scandal and the failings of its authorities.
Operation Linden report ‘lets victims down’
None of the 47 officers investigated were sacked due to the findings.
Sammy Woodhouse, who was abused from age 14, said no-one had been held to account despite “report after report”.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was tasked with examining the force’s response to organised sexual abuse between 1997 and 2013.
A total of 47 current and former officers were investigated after the watchdog received 265 separate allegations from more than 50 complainants.
It said its investigation, dubbed Operation Linden, was one of the “largest and most complex” it had ever undertaken, second only to its investigations into policing of the Hillsborough stadium disaster.
It followed a report by Prof Alexis Jay in 2014, which detailed how girls as young as 11 were raped, trafficked, abducted, beaten and intimidated, predominantly by men of Pakistani-heritage.
IOPC investigators have found there were “systemic problems” within South Yorkshire Police that meant “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”.
In one illustrative example, the watchdog said one parent concerned about a missing daughter said an officer told them “it was a ‘fashion accessory’ for girls in Rotherham to have an ‘older Asian boyfriend’ and that she would grow out of it”.
Criticisms in the new report include a failure by police to recognise children and young people as victims, and a willingness by officers to accept what they were told by suspects at face value.
This was echoed by Ms Woodhouse, who said police had “missed opportunities” to stop her abuser, who was later jailed for 35 years.
“If they would have acted when I was making statements at 16 it could have prevented other people from even being abused,” she said.
“The fact that they were ignoring it for so long just encouraged him, not just him but other people.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said the report failed to “identify individual accountability” and contained “few new findings” despite years of “costly investigations”.
Investigators also found:
- The small team investigating the abuse had inadequate resources and was sometimes overwhelmed
- A failure to recognise children and young people as victims, and viewing them as “consenting” to their own exploitation
- Failures to understand that children being groomed and abused did not always view themselves as victims
- Officers showed a “lack of professional curiosity” by accepting at face value what they were told by perpetrators and victims
- A lack of awareness meant officers showed insufficient empathy towards survivors
- Performance targets at the time prioritised burglary and vehicle crime “at the expense of other types of crimes including child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSA/E)”
The report also identified “ineffective working with other agencies” and an unwillingness to pursue cases where the victim did not make a complaint to police because “the feeling was there would be insufficient evidence for a successful prosecution”.
It also criticised the computer system used to share intelligence as being “not fit for purpose”.
“We found many instances where crimes were not recorded when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault and sexual activity with a child,” the report said.
In a foreword IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said it made “uncomfortable reading”.
“No child, or young person can ever consent to their own abuse or exploitation, nor should be seen as bringing matters upon themselves. Your protection should not have be seen as a lesser policing priority,” he wrote.