Police officers in South Yorkshire have been accused of protecting serial child abusers from prosecution and even having sex with victims as part of the Rotherham scandal. So two-and-a-half years on from the scandal coming to light, why has there been an apparent lack of progress in determining the truth of such serious corruption allegations?
It was a scandal that made headlines around the world – at an extraordinary press conference in August 2014 Professor Alexis Jay revealed that at least 1,400 children has been sexually exploited in Rotherham over 16 years, largely by men from Pakistani backgrounds.
The role of South Yorkshire Police in failing victims immediately came under the microscope and subsequent criminal trials in 2015 and 2016 brought to light shocking allegations that some officers had been in league with the most serious offenders, protecting them from prosecution and passing them information about potential investigations.
One detective was even accused in court of having had sex with victims and passing drugs to a member of the grooming ring, while there were also allegations an unnamed detective was being paid to protect violent offender Basharat Hussain from arrest.
One of Hussain’s victims said he was once given the location of a safe house she was due to be placed in to escape him.
Another victim said that when she was 12 and living in a children’s home she attempted to report her abuse at the hands of Basharat Hussain to a police officer. She said the officer had driven her down a country lane, called her a liar and ripped up paperwork in front of her.
A further victim also alleged in her evidence police officers had been passing information to the Hussain brothers, four of whom have now been jailed for a combined 98 years. The woman said after police had contacted her as an adult about potentially giving evidence against them, a man had threatened her by putting a gun in her mouth and warning her not to speak about the family.
Another now-adult woman told a jury in a second trial that she withdrew allegations of being repeatedly raped at the age of 13 by Basharat’s younger brother Sageer after police in Rotherham lost clothes that could have provided DNA evidence.
The last update provided by the IPCC in March last year, one month after the conclusion of the first trial, said 66 officers were under investigation in 55 separate probes over the Rotherham scandal following around 200 allegations made by 40 complainants.
At that stage, the IPCC was also assessing more than 100 allegations in which the officer had not yet been identified. It came after an independent review of South Yorkshire Police’s handling of child sexual exploitation cases revealed three criminal investigations had been launched, with two officers suspended.
But there has been little further information in the past year on the progress of the investigation, with the IPCC repeatedly refusing requests for information about the numbers of officers under investigation.
The seeming lack of progress in the investigation has been highlighted again this month following a trial about the death of a police officer fatally injured by a car on the day he was referred to the IPCC.
University student Waqas Khan, the driver of the vehicle that hit PC Hassan Ali in Sheffield on January 28, 2015 was last week cleared of causing his death by careless driving after the court heard how PC Ali had been crossing the road as he left a takeaway in Sheffield and was hit by Mr Khan’s car as he travelled at low speed in snowy conditions.
The conclusion of the case - more than two years after PC Ali’s death - has raised difficult new questions about the effectiveness of the police watchdog’s investigation into the Rotherham scandal, with both complainants and accused officers in limbo as they await its findings.
After the case ended, the IPCC said it would only consider “how and when” its findings will be made public after all of its investigations are concluded.
One victim who complained about the conduct of PC Ali and others more than two years ago says she has “lost faith” in the IPCC.
The woman, who has made complaints about a number of officers, says the length of time the IPCC investigation is taking is “ridiculous”.
One of her complaints about PC Ali is that he was involved in an alleged ‘no prosecution’ deal for abuse ringleader Arshid Hussain to hand her over to police when she was a pregnant 14-year-old in exchange for no action being taken against him.
Her testimony on that matter in court resulted in a jury convicting Hussain of an abduction charge – one of a string of child sexual exploitation offences he was found guilty of last year and sentenced to 35 years in jail for.
She says: “As a town, we can’t move forward until professionals get named and dealt with. They just send an email every month saying we are looking at things and it is very complex and we are doing things in priority.
“I just want to get on with my life. I have got no hope in them whatsoever. I haven’t spoken to anyone who has got any hope in them.”
She says has already been told that one of her complaints cannot be taken any further.
That relates to allegations of a ‘lack of concern’ from a police officer about her safety after she was attacked by Hussain in Rotherham town centre when she was 16. It is also alleged the officer involved cancelled an appointment for her to make a statement about the incident.
“They say they couldn’t do anything about it because I withdrew my complaint when I was 16. That doesn’t make me hopeful for the other cases.”
South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Alan Billings told the Yorkshire Post the delays in the investigation’s progress are increasingly unacceptable.
“I have told the IPCC many times that this long drawn-out process is intolerable. It is not fair on victims and not fair on police officers.
“It is especially unfair on those who will be exonerated but who have had this sword of Damocles hanging over them for so long. I cannot think of any other organisation that would be treated as badly as this.”
An independent review of South Yorkshire Police’s handling of CSE ordered by Dr Billings and carried out by Professor John Drew reported in March 2016 that the force had made “determined progress” in recent years to improve its approach.
But Professor Drew admitted that he had been unable to see “a wealth of material about policing in South Yorkshire” because of the ongoing IPCC investigations.
“It is a great frustration to all involved, not least the IPCC itself, that these investigations are taking so long. At worst this will breed cynicism in the public that the police cannot be held to account when their practice is poor.
“At best it still means that important lessons cannot be considered within a reasonable time of the events. I want to emphasise the damage that these delays have on public confidence in policing.”
Professor Drew highlighted a lack of staffing on the IPCC probe as a concern, saying that at the time of his report last March there were only nine lead investigators on the case, with a further three due to join the team.
He said: “There are many consequences of this slow pace. First, complainants have expressed frustration with, and a certain scepticism about, the process.
“I know of at least one case where a complaint on a significant matter was withdrawn out of this frustration. This cannot be a good thing.
“Secondly, it means that officers who are subject to a complaint are placed under considerable pressure for prolonged periods of time.
“Some of the complaints are about very significant matters and there is perhaps little that can be done about this.
“But I am told that this is far from being a full picture; some complaints are about relatively minor matters, for example the location of paperwork.
“More generally it conveys the impression that SYP is continuing as though nothing had gone wrong in the past. This is most certainly not the case, but until there is greater progress with the IPCC investigations this impression will continue to exist.”
The IPCC say they now have 14 dedicated investigators as part of a 25-strong team working on the Rotherham probe.
‘We understand frustrations’, says IPCC
Misconduct investigators said today they understand frustrations about the time the “complex” enquiry is taking.
IPCC deputy chair Rachel Cerfontyne said: “We are conducting a large number of investigations relating to how South Yorkshire Police dealt with allegations of child sexual abuse in Rotherham.
“Those investigations are still ongoing and are both complex and inter-related, which is why we have put in place a specialist team to undertake all of the investigations relating to child abuse in Rotherham.
“We understand the frustration that some survivors may feel about the time taken. However, our priority is to make sure every investigation is rigorous and thorough, so that everyone concerned can have confidence in our findings.”
She added that after being contacted by the Yorkshire Post, the IPCC has spoken to the woman whose complaints involve PC Ali.
“We don’t comment on specific cases when they are still in progress, however I can confirm that in this case we have recently contacted the complainant and will be providing a more detailed update of this specific investigation.”