Rotherham is going to take ‘years and years’ to rebuild, say survivors of the town’s child abuse scandal, one year on from the explosive Jay Report.
The shocking report, published exactly 12 months ago today, claimed children as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities, beaten and intimidated.
Some of those among the 1,400 girls who were abused between 1997 and 2013 – while police and council authorities failed to act – today say they are ‘pleased’ with progress made by the council, but have levied criticism at South Yorkshire Police.
One survivor, known as Jessica, said she felt ‘relieved’ when the report was released because she thought it would be a turning point.
She said: “When the Jay Report came out it was devastating but I was relieved at the same time because I thought, ‘This is it now, we are going to be believed.’
“But for the first six months, all everyone seemed to want to do was to say, ‘There weren’t 1,400 girls.’ We wasted that six months.
“When the Casey Report came out, that’s when things really started to change.”
Louise Casey’s follow-up report, published in February 2015, found Rotherham Council was ‘not fit for purpose’ and many of its senior members actively tried to deny the Jay Report.
Members of the Rotherham CSE Steering Group, an organisation made up of abuse survivors and parents of victims have praised Rotherham Council for making improvements to its services since.
The group, run by former Risky Business founder Jayne Senior out of Swinton Lock Activity Centre in Mexborough, is playing a key role in providing support for survivors and helping rebuild the town.
Jessica, who is a member of the group, said: “We started meeting with agencies and we created a national plan. We helped create licensing conditions for taxis. We felt listened to.
“What people need to understand is Rotherham is not going to be rebuilt overnight. It’s going to take years and years.
“That isn’t going to happen if people don’t come forward. That’s why we are encouraging as many people as possible to come forward.
“Being in this group has made a massive difference to our lives through being able to put plans into action.”
The group is preparing a set of licensing conditions for takeaways – mentioned in the Jay Report alongside taxis as being part of the town’s grooming network – and these will be adopted by Rotherham Council.
The conditions include mandatory CCTV in buildings and name badges and photo ID for all delivery drivers.
They have also made recommendations for schools and were instrumental in getting new conditions put in place for taxi drivers.
Jayne Senior said: “We want to see these proposals put into place in order to reduce the likelihood of others experiencing the horrific crimes recently brought to light.
“By implementing these policies, we can significantly reduce CSE with the ultimate aim of eradication.”
But for all its progress with Rotherham Council, the group says South Yorkshire Police is still lacking.
Jessica said: “The police are still not good enough. Nowhere near.
“They are doing some positive things. But there’s a lot that needs to be done.
“The police I have dealt with in my case have done a really good job. They always help as soon as they can.
“But what I hear is that there are officers who are not getting things right. The officers that seem to be getting this wrong are from Rotherham.”
Sally Jane, a victim’s parent, is unhappy with the way the force handled her daughter’s case, when one of the men she says she abused her daughter was found not guilty.
She said: “I feel let down by the police. I have no faith in them whatsoever. They would say things like, ‘You can’t win them all,’ and, ‘At least you got some justice.’
“If the police really want to change, they need to talk to all of the victims and the parents, and learn from what we are telling them directly, so they can be better in the future.
“The council has listened. The council has put stuff into place that we have asked for. But the police haven’t.”
Jenny, another victim’s mum, added: “The perpetrators who abused my daughter are still out there. They haven’t been brought to justice.
“She was 14. She was too frightened to name them. The police know who they are, but she wouldn’t name them, so nothing has happened.
“I think eventually the case will be revisited. They all will. But there are still a lot of improvements to be made at the police.”
Rotherham district commander Chief Supt Jason Harwin says South Yorkshire Police has improved – but admits there is much more to be done.
He said: “Our understanding of the issues has significantly changed. That doesn’t mean we know all the issues, but our understanding compared to where we were 12 months ago is very different.
“I’m happy in the sense that we’re making progress, but there is more to do. This is not something we are going to resolve in 12 or 24 months.
“We have to recognise where we have let people down in the past is not repeated in the future.
“We aren’t always going to get it right but where we don’t get it right we have to make sure we address it very, very quickly.”
TIMELINE OF THE SCANDAL
August 26, 2014: Professor Alexis Jay publishes her devastating report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. The leader of Rotherham Council, Roger Stone, resigns within minutes of the publication.
August 27: Shaun Wright, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who was the councillor in charge of children’s services in Rotherham between 2005 and 2010, refuses to resign despite Home Secretary Theresa May calling for him to step down.
August 28: Education secretary Nicky Morgan said she is “appalled” by the exploitation exposed by the report and announces an early inspection of child protection in Rotherham by Ofsted.
September 2: The Labour Party suspends four of its members in Rotherham, including Mr Stone and ex-deputy council leader Jahangir Akhtar.
September 8: Chief executive of Rotherham Council Martin Kimber, who joined the authority in 2009, announces he is to step down at the end of December.
September 9 : Mr Wright is grilled by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee. Chairman Keith Vaz calls for him to resign and said he would be asking the Home Secretary to bring in emergency legislation to enable PCCs to be sacked.
September 10: Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announces that Rotherham Council will face an independent inspection led by Louise Casey, the head of the Government’s Troubled Families programme.
September 12 : Mr Wright attends an angry meeting of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel where he answers questions and is screamed at from the public gallery before the panel passes a no confidence vote.
September 16 : Mr Wright resigns.
September 19 : Rotherham’s director of children’s services, Joyce Thacker, resigns.
October 13: The National Crime Agency (NCA) announces it will lead an investigation into outstanding allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, following a request from South Yorkshire Police.
October 31: Dr Alan Billings is elected as the new PCC for South Yorkshire, pledging to make tackling child sexual exploitation a priority.
November 18: The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) says it will investigate 10 South Yorkshire Police staff over the handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
November 19: Ofsted declares children’s services in Rotherham are ‘’inadequate’’.
January 29, 2015: Rotherham’s Labour MP Sarah Champion tells Sky News that the figure of 1,400 victims in the Jay Report may be an underestimate.
February 4: Louise Casey publishes a highly critical report on Rotherham Council, saying it is “not fit for purpose”. The entire political leadership of the council announces it will resign and Mr Pickles says he will send in government commissioners.
February 23: Ms Casey tells MPs the police should be subjected to the the same analysis that she had given the council.
March 11: Former council leader Roger Stone says the Casey Report felt “like a witch hunt” a day after he was grilled by MPs.
March 13: New PCC Alan Billings calls for a wide-ranging inspection of South Yorkshire Police after a BBC investigation alleged failings relating to the exploitation of children in Sheffield.
March 26: The IPCC announces it has expanded its investigation into how police handled child sexual exploitation in Rotherham after receiving complaints involving more than 100 allegations against 42 named officers.
June 6: Dr Billings announces that Professor John Drew has been appointed to review South Yorkshire Police.
June 24: The NCA announces it is looking at 300 potential suspects as it begins the investigation stage of its inquiry into historical child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
July 21: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says South Yorkshire Police still needs to make major improvements to its child protection procedures.
August 3: A £3 million package is announced to provide a Barnardo’s team of specialist workers to work with children in South Yorkshire who are at risk of being sexually exploited.