Five years of missing council data and failures by police to record cases of child sexual exploitation mean the true scale of abuse in Rotherham is likely to be ‘much higher’ than the estimated 1,400 victims, Alexis Jay has said.
Inquiry author Professor Jay said five years of data from Rotherham Council about victims is missing, while South Yorkshire Police was unable to record the scale of the problem before 2013 as it did not categorise child sexual exploitation as a form of crime until last year.
Four years’ worth of meeting minutes discussing child abuse cases between 1999 and 2003 have also disappeared.
A letter Prof Jay sent to the Communities and Local Government Committee has been made public ahead of a report by MPs being published tomorrow. She said a category for recording child sexual exploitation cases was introduced by police only in 2013, meaning the force was ‘unable to quantify the scale of the problem’ prior to last year.
While social services did officially recognise the issue from 2001, she said some victims were wrongly classified as being ‘out of control’.
Prof Jay said Rotherham Council provided information for only 11 of the 16 years covered by the inquiry.
She said: “The council’s information systems were simply not good enough to provide accurate data about the scale of the problem over the inquiry period.”
In other years, records from inter-agency meetings ‘showed the number of children being exploited was much higher than the numbers recorded by children’s social care’. She said in 2005 and 2007, authorities had been ‘overwhelmed’ with cases – and responded by removing ‘large numbers of children from monitoring’.
Prof Jay said sexual exploitation was also ‘rife’ in care homes, but issues were not properly recorded in care files. She added: “In addition, there are five years of missing case files and there is no indication that the scale of CSE during these years would have been any different. Many children and parents are and were afraid to come forward and make complaints. Those who did so in the past were threatened and intimidated. The estimate of at least 1,400 children was the best estimate the inquiry was able to make. It must be seen as a conservative estimate.”