Police and council chiefs in Rotherham have been criticised by MPs over their response to tackling the sexual exploitation of children – with agencies described as ‘inexcusably slow’ at recognising the extent of the problem.
A Home Affairs Select Committee report concluded that there had been ‘a woeful lack of professional curiosity or indifference’ at the top at Rotherham Council.
Criticising Rotherham Council, the report concluded: “That it took so long for anybody, at any level from the Chief Executive downward, to look at reports of young girls with multiple, middle-aged ‘boyfriends’, hanging around takeaways, drinking and taking drugs, and to think that it might be worth investigating further, is shocking.”
MPs examined the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham after a serious case review following the murder of 17-year-old, Laura Wilson, who was ‘on the periphery’ of a grooming ring when she was stabbed to death.
The review identified missed opportunities to help the teenager and it was published with redactions whitewashing the link between her murder and grooming. But documents were then leaked which laid bare the true extent of the problem.
The MPs, who looked at the issue nationwide, said: “We believe that there are still places in the UK where victims of child sexual exploitation are being failed by statutory agencies.
“The police, social services and the Crown Prosecution Service must all bear responsibility for the way in which vulnerable children have been left unprotected.”
It called for more cases to reach court, criticising South Yorkshire Police for a lack of prosecutions.
“We have heard evidence that South Yorkshire Police have previously let down victims of localised grooming and child sexual exploitation – as a result, we would expect the force be striving to redeem their reputation,” the report concluded.
“We do not believe that differences in the number of offenders could explain why Lancashire has 100 prosecutions a year whereas South Yorkshire has none. Such a postcode lottery is unacceptable. We believe it is the responsibility of the Chief Constable to ensure that investigations lead to prosecutions.”
A Rotherham Council spokeswoman said: “Rotherham Borough Council welcomes the work of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the report published today in further raising the profile nationally and locally regarding issues of child sexual exploitation.
“This and the wider context presented by Operation Yewtree and other high profile investigations into child sexual exploitation, allows for a more open conversation within our communities in a way that has not been possible in the past,
“Having just received the report, we need time to consider and reflect on the important issues raised to assess how this can help us to build on the significant improvements that have been made since 2009 and hope to provide a more detailed response very shortly.
“Working with our partners, including South Yorkshire Police, we continue to give top priority to tackling this horrific crime and to protecting the children and young people of Rotherham from the people who will use any means at their disposal to cause them harm.
A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said: “South Yorkshire Police, Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright and its partners welcome the report by the Home Affairs Committee on Child Sexual exploitation as it highlights and emphasises the importance of all agencies working together to help combat this vile crime.
“It is accepted that South Yorkshire Police and partner agency services to combat child sexual exploitation in the past have not been as strong as they are today, however, lessons have been learnt and this is an area of work where significant progress has been made within the last 12 months.
“At the time of the Home Affairs Committee appearance last year, it was mentioned that there were two live ongoing child sexual exploitation investigations. These investigations have now reached critical stages.
“On the 29 May, 2013, a 28-year-old man from Sheffield was found guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment for sexual activity with a child - this related to a relationship he had with a 14-year-old girl in 2011, when he was 26 years of age.
“The other investigation has just seen six people charged on June 4 with a total of 71 child sexual exploitation related offences.
“There are over 60 live child sexual exploitation investigations taking place across South Yorkshire at the moment. At the last county-wide meeting for child sexual exploitation at the end of May it was identified that there are currently about 180 children - the vast majority are female, with less than five percent male, that are being dealt with by multi-agency co-located teams, after showing signs of being ‘at risk’ of child sexual exploitation.
“In order to strengthen our capacity to combat child sexual exploitation, the Commissioner, Shaun Wright, has provided funding for an extra 10 detectives, each of whom will be dedicated specifically to investigate child sexual exploitation related offences.”