South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council have confirmed an investigation focused around the Roma community and involving ‘a number of children’ is under way.
Malcolm Newsam, one of the Government-appointed commissioners currently in charge of Rotherham Council, said the operation is in its early stages after starting in January ‘but could have major resourcing implications as it gains momentum.’
It comes after a University of Salford report into Rotherham’s child sexual exploitation problem said one contributor had highlighted concerns about children in the Roma community being vulnerable to abuse ‘because of their relatively recent migration to Rotherham and a reported drug problem in the Eastwood area.’
Mr Newsam revealed details of the new investigation in a report by the Rotherham Council commissioners assessing the progress of the local authority over the last year.
The commissioners were brought in to run the council after it was assessed as being not fit for purpose in the wake of the abuse scandal, in which at least 1,400 children in the town were estimated to have been sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013 – largely by men of Pakistani origin.
Mr Newsam highlighted the recent convictions of six people for historic child sexual exploitation offences involving 15 now-adult women in his report and said the support service offered to the witnesses in the case had been an ‘outstanding success.’
He added: “In January 2016 a further multi-agency enquiry into suspected child sexual exploitation within a minority group commenced and this may become a significant challenge later in the year.
“Preliminary enquiries have so far identified a number of children from a minority group believed to be at risk of sexual exploitation and drugs misuse.
“This operation is still at the earliest stages but could have major resourcing implications as it gains momentum and it is important that the council and South Yorkshire Police continue to demonstrate the excellent practice that has led to the successful outcomes to date.”
A joint statement by Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police said: “South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council’s Children’s Services are conducting a joint investigation after identifying a number of girls in the Roma community who are believed to be at risk of sexual exploitation and drug misuse in Rotherham.
“The children are receiving specialist support from a range of agencies, who are working closely with affected communities.
“Anyone with concerns about child sexual exploitation should contact the police on 101 or the new national helpline Say Something on 116 000. The Rotherham Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, MASH, can also be contacted on 01709 336 080. Always call 999 in an emergency.”
As part of the university study, a Roma mother whose daughter has been a victim of child abuse said criminal gangs would victimise the Roma girls who had been exploited, and attempt to bribe them so that they would not press charges.
She said: “The police found him after we reported him and he was sent to jail. But he sent two guys to visit us trying to bribe my daughter and to say that the guy is innocent.
“But my daughter refused to do that.
“She said, ‘Mum, he has destroyed my life - how could I let it go?’ We all have suffered from this.”
A 2014 South Yorkshire Police report said ‘there is evidence locally to show that people from the Czech Republic and Slovakia in Rotherham are frequently of Roma heritage and there is an emerging community of Czech and Slovakian Roma families in the Eastwood area’.
Last year, two Slovakian brothers living in Rotherham were jailed for child abuse offences.
Eduard Peticky was given a life sentence for sexually abusing a boy aged between three and five and trafficking a five-year-old girl for sex before assaulting her himself.
His brother Ludovit Peticky was also jailed for 12 years for offences against the same two children and a third victim, who was between 10 and 11.
The offences took place between 2010 and 2012 in the Eastwood area of Rotherham.