Everything senior cop said when asked if someone should lose their job over Rotherham child sex abuse scandal

A senior police officer has responded to questions about whether someone should lose their job over ‘systemic’ failings in the force’s handling of Rotherham child sexual exploitation, following a damning £6million report investigating 265 allegations.
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The £6million report by police watchdog, The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), was published today and has has examined South Yorkshire Police’s (SYP) response to allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSA/E) in the town between 1997 and 2013.

In the report’s foreword, IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said investigators found that officers were ‘not fully aware, or able, to deal with child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSA/E) offences’ and showed ‘insufficient empathy’ towards survivors who were vulnerable children and young people.

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The report, which took eight years to be produced, includes findings and summaries from 91 investigations started between 2014 and 2018, the last of which was completed in 2020, covering 265 separate allegations made by 51 complainants, 44 of whom were survivors of abuse and exploitation.

Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber, who joined the force in 2016, said he was ‘deeply sorry' for the force's failures which include failing, in some cases, to recognise abused children as victims.Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber, who joined the force in 2016, said he was ‘deeply sorry' for the force's failures which include failing, in some cases, to recognise abused children as victims.
Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber, who joined the force in 2016, said he was ‘deeply sorry' for the force's failures which include failing, in some cases, to recognise abused children as victims.

The conduct of 47 officers was investigated as part of Operation Linden, but to date, not a single SYP has lost their job as a result of what the IOPC found to be ‘systemic’ and ‘significant’ failings in the way in which SYP handled Rotherham CSA/E over a 16-year period.

An IOPC spokesperson said: “Eight were found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct.

“In many cases, officers had retired and, due to legislation in place at the time, could not face disciplinary proceedings. However, five of these officers received sanctions ranging from management action up to a final written warning. A sixth faced a misconduct hearing arranged by the force earlier this year and the case was found not proven by the independent panel.”

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Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber, who joined the force in 2016, said he was ‘deeply sorry' for the force's failures which include failing, in some cases, to recognise abused children as victims.

I asked him a number of questions concerning whether someone at SYP should be sacked for failing to protect children, many of whom were vulnerable, over such an extended period of time.

What would you say to survivors of CSE in Rotherham who have branded the report a ‘whitewash’ because of the lack of individual accountability? As I understand it, not one South Yorkshire Police officer has lost their job as a result of what the report termed as ‘significant’ and ‘systemic’ failures.

“First of all, I completely understand that perspective. I think it’s important to say that this investigation was conducted entirely independently of South Yorkshire Police. Where there are serious and proper public concerns about how the police have handled a particular issue, it’s absolutely right that that is conducted by an independent body. This is not an internal investigation. It’s for the IOPC to determine accountability, not SYP. And where there have been, and there have been two gross misconduct hearings held, those hearings, the outcome of those hearings, and the sanction was determined by an independently-qualified chair. So while I do understand victims’ perspective, and absolutely I do understand it, it’s a matter for the IOPC, not SYP.”

To an extent it is about how it looks to victims, and the perception of accountability. Not a single police officer has lost their job, and during the misconduct and gross misconduct hearings, the worst sanction was a final written warning. How do you think that looks to victims?

“What I’d say to victims is: We’ve thrown our doors open to the IOPC, and it’s for the IOPC to come in and look at individual accountability. My view, looking back, if you put it in the context Alexis Jay put it in, this was widespread abuse, this was systemic failure. I think it’s very difficult to attribute that to a single, individual officer, so that the officers that have appeared on appeared on misconduct hearings have been relatively junior officers in the service. It was about systemic failure. The police alone, back in 1997 to 2013, just as is the case, the police alone can’t deal with CSE - it has to be a partnership. What we have done since the Alexis Jay report in 2013 is worked extensively with partners to make sure we have the proper structures in place, that we have the proper training, proper understanding of vulnerability to make sure this can’t happen again.

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“So what I’d say to victims and survivors is: I understand their perspective. This has taken eight years, and that’s too long for a report like this. But what I can say to victims and survivors is that we have listened to you. Their experiences and what they have told us about our failures during that period from 1997 to 2013 has absolutely shaped the improvements we have made over the last eight years and absolutely has been a key part of the response that we have to CSE today.”

You’ve mentioned that it’s fairly junior officers who have had misconduct proceedings brought against them. Why hasn’t someone more senior been held accountable in a similar way, and should someone senior lose their job over the ‘systemic’ and ‘significant’ failures that have affected many victims and survivors?

“I think that’s a question that you need to direct to the IOPC, it’s the IOPC that conducts the investigation. It’s not for SYP to determine accountability in this case. And I think the public would entirely agree with me. When you’ve got serious concerns about the performance of a law enforcement agency - it’s not for me to determine accountability, it is for an independent body to do that, and that’s what’s happened in this case.”

I do appreciate that, but police are supposed to be held to high professional standards and yet no-one has been removed from their post as a result of this. I appreciate that you say it’s for the IOPC to determine accountability but shouldn’t the police be able to police itself and take responsibility for these failures?

“Should SYP police itself? As I say, this is certainly not a case where I would advocate SYP should be policing itself, I don’t think the public would have any confidence in that.”

Okay, but shouldn’t someone be taking responsibility?

“In terms of taking responsibility for past failures: what we have done since the Alexis Jay report is absolutely commit to protecting vulnerable people. To really improve not only the organisation’s broader understanding of the partnership of how to identify the signs of CSE and how to deal with it and continue to challenge ourselves to get better. I’ve been in policing a long time now and I do know that when you’re dealing with complex issues like this, that if you get to a point where you think we’ve made the improvements, everything’s fine, you move back and my main concern today is not that there could be a repeat of CSE in the scale and in the manner that it manifested itself in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. The picture of CSE has moved on considerably since then, and it’s making sure we have the capacity and the capability to deal with new forms of exploitation so the force has taken responsibility for what happened during that period. I accept all you say around individuals but that’s a matter for the IOPC. Certainly the leadership of the force today is committed to making sure that this doesn’t happen again and making sure that we haven’t only got the capacity and capability to prevent what happened from happening again but also so that we are looking to the future and making sure that we are ahead of different trends. So for example, today 56 per cent of sexual exploitation starts online. That’s completely different to what happened during the Linden period and that demands of us and our partners different capabilities, different capacity in different policing areas and we need to make sure we’re ahead of that. What we can’t do is wait for that to happen and then develop that capability so we’re wholly focused on that, and wholly focused to make sure that we have a capacity and capability to deal with CSE that absolutely protects victims, both now and into the future.”

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If a government makes catastrophic mistakes, people expect the Prime Minister to resign. Shouldn’t the same be expected of other public bodies like the police? Shouldn’t someone senior be made to be held publicly accountable?

“The issue is this: everyone who was involved in the leadership of the force during this period no longer works for SYP. We’re talking about events an awful long time ago. The leadership of today are absolutely committed to learning the lessons of the past, to listening to victims and survivors, and we have listened. That has shaped the service that we provide today and the real concern for us today - and I’m not just speaking as the deputy chief constable but as a father, I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter - in terms of protecting children today. My concern is very much about looking ahead at different types of exploitation and how can we protect children in the future.”