Councillors claim child sex abuse in Rotherham 'may be occurring on the same scale as in the past'
Opposition councillors have demanded that Rotherham Council “acknowledges the true scale of child sexual exploitation,” which they say is being under-reported.
Councillor Emily Barley, leader of the Rotherham Conservatives, has demanded on the group’s behalf that the council “acknowledges that the true scale of CSE in Rotherham is not, and cannot be known at present due to reactive policies and under-reporting, and that CSE may be occurring on the same scale as in the past”.
A notice of motion has been filed to Rotherham Council’s next full council meeting, which alleges that “community gathered intelligence” has been passed to the council and police regarding possible grooming and CSE, but states that “the response to this intelligence has been poor, with slow or no action taken”.
The party has also requested that the council train its staff and contractors to recognise grooming and CSE, and demanded a “full and unreserved apology to survivors”.
Other demands include a review of council procedures to handle reports of CSE, target CSE hot spots, and improve support for survivors.
However, Councillor Chris Read, the Labour leader of Rotherham Council, says that there is “absolutely no place for complacency” when it comes to CSE,
He accused the Conservatives of “attempting to politisise” the issue, “seemingly based on anecdotal evidence”, and that many of their demands are already in place.
Coun Read said: “I have always said that there will always be men in our community – as in every community – who want to use children for their own sexual gratification.
“We are more aware of that than perhaps anywhere else in the country.
“That’s why we continue with our multi-agency specialist team, bringing expert support to children who may fall victim to abusers. The number of children being supported by the service is published alongside other information about council services.
“We have absolutely no place for complacency.
“Our ReachOut project, delivered by Barnardo’s, is the biggest of its kind anywhere in the country, working in every school in the borough to improve awareness of appropriate relationships and the dangers of grooming. Our post-abuse support services receive strong endorsement from survivors who have used them, and are amongst the most comprehensive in England.
“It is therefore alarming to see the Conservative Group attempting to politicise this issue in this way, seemingly based on anecdotal evidence, which they have only brought to my attention through the media.
“As councillors they have access not just to me, but to the Cabinet member for Children’s Services, the Council’s Chief Executive, and if necessary to the independent Chair of our multi-agency safeguarding board.
“It is deeply concerning to me that rather than use these channels to directly address the issues they believe they have identified, they have chosen to store them up and try to publicise them in such a partisan way.
“If they had taken the time to do so, they would have realised that many of the actions they are calling for – including training and awareness raising – are already very much part of the work being undertaken, and have been for some considerable period of time.”
What have the police said?
South Yorkshire Police say that they are “absolutely clear” that CSE “remains a problem in Rotherham as it does right across the country,” adding that they have dedicated teams working to tackle CSE.
A spokesperson said: “There will always be people intent on harming children for their own gains. We are working tirelessly to bring those people to justice but even more importantly to prevent harm occurring in the first place.
“This has included the creation of dedicated CSE teams working in partnership with Rotherham Council to ensure information is shared in quick time.
“We also established the Operation MakeSafe which sees dedicated officers provide training to staff in key locations who may have opportunity to spot the signs of CSE. This has included hotels receptionists, taxi drivers and take away staff amongst many, many others.
“We have a monthly working group which details the intelligence and investigations we are working on including the reports received by the Conservative Group.”
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, says a report linked to the demands detailing allegations of CSE contains “untruths”.
Dr Billlings said that the force had “apologised for that time and have been determined to learn from past mistakes,” following the Jay Report in 2016
“The authors say they have supplied information to the police that has not been acted on. This is not true,” added Dr Billings.
“Every piece of information they supplied has been followed up, but most of it was so vague that little could be done with it.
He added that South Yorkshire Police currently have 35 active CSE cases with 29 suspects arrested.
What has the council said?
Suzanne Joyner, Rotherham Council’s strategic director for children and young people’s services said: “The council takes all allegations of child abuse very seriously, including those allegations made by this group of councillors.
“Our multi-agency team of social workers, police, and voluntary sector partners works with children who may be at risk of sexual or criminal exploitation.
“We work with Barnardo’s in every school in the borough to improve awareness of appropriate relationships and the dangers of grooming, and we commission services to support survivors.
“Rotherham’s approach has been independently inspected and found to be successful in reducing the risks to our young people. Indeed Ofsted found that Rotherham’s Children’s Services had been ‘transformed’.
“Where intelligence is received relating to potential child sexual exploitation, this is reviewed on a regular basis, with police and social workers taking the necessary steps to safeguard children where necessary.
“Clearly not every allegation will be validated once it has been properly investigated. Based on the information we have received, this process seems to have been followed fully in relation to the allegations made by the councillors.
“I would continue to urge anyone with concerns to report these through to Children’s Services, or to the police using the 101 number.”