EXCLUSIVE: South Yorkshire Police warned of Sheffield’s ‘very entrenched sexual exploitation problem’ in 2006 - but failed to act

South Yorkshire Police Headquarters on Carbrook Hall Road, Sheffield
South Yorkshire Police Headquarters on Carbrook Hall Road, Sheffield
  • Secret reports into child abuse in South Yorkshire made public today
  • Senior officers given names of suspects in Sheffield and Rotherham in 2003
  • Report author says abuse ‘could have been stopped’ - but police priority was burglary and car crime
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Police bosses were warned almost a decade ago about Sheffield’s ‘very entrenched sexual exploitation problem’, The Star can reveal today.

But the expert analyst who made the warning - having previously provided senior officers with names of suspected offenders in Sheffield and Rotherham in 2003 - said today nothing was done with the information.

RELATED ARTICLE: New inquiry into South Yorkshire Police will consider findings of 2003 and 2006 reports

Dr Angie Heal said she was told by one senior officer such crimes were ‘awful’ - but the force’s priority was burglary and car crime.

Reports written by Dr Heal in 2003 and 2006 have now been made public for the first time following a Freedom of Information request by The Star.

RELATED ARTICLE: South Yorkshire Police given list of key Sheffield and Rotherham abuse suspects in 2003

The second report warned that abusers were able to carry on with ‘impunity’ across South Yorkshire, with particular problems in Sheffield and Rotherham.

But despite the warning, South Yorkshire Police are said to have failed to act on information about hundreds of abusers and victims in Sheffield between 2007 and 2010.

Dr Heal’s 2006 report said: “Sheffield has both an established on-street prostitution scene and a very entrenched sexual exploitation problem.

“There have been reports of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against teenage schoolgirls and adult women in Sheffield.”

Her report noted that there was a ‘reluctance’ for young victims to give information to the police and said a more ‘empathetic’ attitude was needed towards the girls.

It said: “Currently the focus is on the behaviour of those who are sexually abused and to a large extent the perpetrators of the abuse are able to carry on with impunity.”

Dr Heal told The Star she had written update reports on the situation every six months after an initial report in 2002 - but said no action ever appeared to be taken at a senior level.

She said there were differences between what was going on in Sheffield and Rotherham, such as the ethnic background of offenders.

But she said the lack of police response was similar in both places.

“It definitely wasn’t a priority,” she said.

“There was a whole mix of issues. It was around blaming the victims and not understanding the issue.

“I can’t understand why anyone told about the multiple rape of children wouldn’t respond effectively to that. There was a lack of common sense in applying basic policing practices and following the law in these cases.

“It was in the ‘too hard to deal with’ tray.

“A senior officer said to me at one point, it was awful but burglary and car crime were policing priorities set by the government.”

Dr Heal said she is frustrated nothing was done with the information she provided.

“I just feel so upset and very, very angry - the abuse could have been stopped. I feel for the victims and families and frontline staff that tried their best in such horrendous circumstances.

“There are just so many people affected by this.”

Dr Heal said she believes some improvements were made after her departure from the police by new Rotherham district commander Matt Jukes, who was in the post between 2006 and 2009.

South Yorkshire Police said today the force has ‘admitted to past failings in the way it handled child sexual exploitation’ and accepts the need for a planned inquiry ordered by crime commissioner Alan Billings in March.