Police ignored child abuse victims in Sheffield and Rotherham because of ‘target culture’, Theresa May claims

Home Secretary Theresa May speaking at the annual Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth.
Home Secretary Theresa May speaking at the annual Police Federation Conference in Bournemouth.
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Home Secretary Theresa May has said ‘target culture’ contributed to South Yorkshire Police ignoring child sexual exploitation in Sheffield and Rotherham for years.

She said the force was ‘allegedly so intent’ on meeting Home Office targets for burglary and car crime in the early 2000s, it failed to act on the abuse of hundreds of young girls.

Mrs May told the annual conference of the Police Federation of England and Wales that an independent review will be carried out into the use of crime performance targets by police forces.

She said the Government’s moves to scrap red tape had not been replicated at local level and singled out South Yorkshire Police for criticism.

Mrs May said: “A police force allegedly so intent on meeting Home Office targets about car theft and burglary that it ignored hundreds of young girls being abused in Rotherham and Sheffield.

“A police force where resources followed those so-called ‘priority crimes’, and may have been diverted away from issues like rape and sexual violence that were not on the list.

“And a management culture, according to some whistleblowers, in which senior officers’ pay was linked to these targets, meaning it was possible to indirectly reward officers for neglecting the victims of sexual abuse.

“We can never allow that culture to exist in policing again - and I am determined to root it out. I’ve got rid of the national targets, and now I want to take on the target culture imposed at local level. Enough is enough.”

Her comments follow two reports that warned the force about the extent of child abuse in Rotherham and Sheffield in 2003 and 2006 being made public for the first time.

Report author Dr Angie Heal said she was told by one senior officer at the time that such crimes were ‘awful’ - but the force’s priority was burglary and car crime.

Mrs May said she was determined to ‘root out’ target culture.

She said: “I know that in some places local targets still persist.

“Year after year I have stood here and told you that I’m just as frustrated as you are about these local targets.

“It can never be right for red tape removed by the Home Office to be simply reinstated at local level or for bureaucratic paperwork to be gold-plated by forces.”

She said the ‘local target culture’ differs around the country.

“Some forces focus on broad priorities, others on specific performance regimes across a range of crime types.

“There are chief constables who manage their forces only by outcomes, while others retain a relentless focus on what is recorded by officers and staff.

“And I know that there are some police officers who like the comfort of ticking boxes or meeting targets that their supervisors set them.”

Mrs May stressed the review, which will be led by Irene Curtis, President of the Police Superintendent’s Association, is not a criticism of the use of data to ‘understand and manage the operational challenge of policing by chief constables’.

However, she said targets ‘distort operational reality’ and ‘remove independent discretion’ from officers.