Whistleblower: Rotherham scandal 'was no cock-up'

Adele Gladman warned police and council staff about sexual exploitation crimes in Rotherham in 2001 and 2002. Picture: Scott Merrylees
Adele Gladman warned police and council staff about sexual exploitation crimes in Rotherham in 2001 and 2002. Picture: Scott Merrylees
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More than 15 years ago, former solicitor Adele Gladman detailed with “breathtaking clarity” how young girls in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham were being targeted outside schools, the bus station, children’s homes and homeless projects by predatory abusers who would go on to traffic them to different parts of the country and sell them for sex.

But her findings as part of a Home Office-funded project, which included detailed information on suspected perpetrators, were ignored or dismissed by senior figures in South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council. And not only was the information she provided not acted upon, Gladman’s office in a Rotherham Council building being used by the Risky Business youth project she was working alongside was raided, her files stolen from a cabinet and her computer records altered by an unknown party or parties.

At least 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

At least 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

That incident occurred in April 2002 and was described in detail in a grievance letter sent by Gladman in June 2002 – but it has taken until this month for Rotherham Council to finally validate the version of events Gladman has long described as having happened, and only then with considerable caveats thrown in.

In amongst the six reports ordered by the council into different elements of the abuse scandal in which an estimated 1,400 children were the victims of sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013 was one examining the alleged theft of the files.

It found: “There is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence to support an assertion that an incident occurred involving the removal of files and/or impairment of computer records belonging to the former researcher. On the basis of our investigation and taking into account the circumstantial evidence available, our conclusion is that on the balance of probability it is likely files were removed from the Risky Business office and computer records impaired.”

But unanswered questions remain over the incident – and now appear unlikely to ever be fully resolved. The investigation report added: “We have no information about who might have been the culprit(s), if files were removed and/or computer records impaired.

“We have found no evidence that would suggest any council officers referred to in this report were involved in the alleged incident. The work of Risky Business was gaining profile in 2002 and with what is known now about the exploitation of children, there might well have been strong motivation for individuals to prevent the information held in Risky Business files from being reported to statutory agencies.”

The report also reveals that one former council employee, described in the report only as ‘Individual G’, refused to co-operate in any way with the investigation. Another of the reports, looking at the link between child sexual exploitation and taxi drivers in the town, as well as the failure of Rotherham Council to enforce stringent licensing policies, admiringly describes how Gladman had pinpointed precisely what was occurring back in the early 2000s.

It says: “With breathtaking clarity, given subsequent events, the Home Office researcher wrote in 2002 that: ‘Taxis were suspected to be involved in the targeting of young women and the transport of them to private premises and other towns for prostitution/related purposes.

"The data gathered also suggested that takeaways had been used where runaways and young women out socialising had been targeted. Young women had also been targeted and collected from outside schools, residential homes and homeless projects. The bus and railway stations were also suspected to be venues where young people were targeted’.”

The failure to act on Miss Gladman’s findings from her work in the town in 2001 and 2002 is just one of an almost-countless litany of missed opportunities for those in positions of authority to prevent child sexual exploitation in Rotherham as it was occurring, with the crime typically involving white girls from vulnerable backgrounds being groomed and then abused by men from the Pakistani-heritage community.

But the lead independent report conducted on behalf of Rotherham Council controversially failed to recommend disciplinary action against any former or current employee after coming up against a wall of silence in which dozens of ex-workers and councillors refused to participate in interviews for the £440,000 inquiries.

Lead author and lawyer Mark Greenburgh controversially described his findings of the failures at the council during the scandal to have been “more cock-up than conspiracy”.

Gladman tells The Yorkshire Post that while she is pleased elements of the reports have validated what she has been saying for years, the crass phrase used by Mr Greenburgh sums up their wider failure to hold people to account and fully understand the issues.

“What you are talking about is officers in the council being told at the very least on a monthly basis of the rape and sexual assault and torture of young girls by adult men.

“That is not a cock-up. I’m not saying it is a conspiracy but it is negligence,” she says.

“To me that sums up the whole report, that they have not grasped how important it is for victims to see people who should have protected them not held accountable.”

After describing the theft of the files to shocked MPs in 2014 a few weeks after the publication of the Professor Alexis Jay report which outlined the true extent of child sexual exploitation in the town over a 16-year period, the Home Affairs Select Committee demanded an investigation was conducted, which Rotherham Council then ordered.

Gladman, who now runs a company called Safeguarding Children Training and Consultancy which is designed to help improve professional standards in protecting young people, says it has been frustrating to have to wait years for the outcome, after originally being told by the council the work would be complete in 2015 and then “assured” in early 2016 the report had been finished.

“Having waited all that time, I feel the findings are very insipid. They don’t really take us any further forward,” she says. “I know it is difficult to say definitively something happened. The fact they have validated it and said the theft happened is extremely encouraging and positive.

“The fact they don’t know who did it – well, I don’t know who did it. I understand from a legal point of view to actually name somebody you have got to have more proof than they had.

“Of course I feel pleased they validated what I was saying.

“I just feel very disappointed with the reports overall, I feel disappointed on behalf of the victims and the families.”

Abusers 'could have been brought to justice sooner'

Abusers could have been brought to justice sooner if Ms Gladman’s warnings had been heeded, Professor Alexis Jay said in 2014.

The Jay report into the scandal said of Ms Gladman’s work in Rotherham in the early 2000s: “Had this report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice.”

A database of information compiled by Gladman about abusers, their methods and victims included details about the four Hussain brothers, who were finally jailed for a combined 98 years for historic child sexual exploitation offences in 2016 following two trials at Sheffield Crown Court.

*For more information about Ms Gladman's work, visit Protecting Children Now