'Hundreds more suspects' in Rotherham child sexual exploitation investigations

Sageer Hussain appeared on Channel 4 News in 2013
Sageer Hussain appeared on Channel 4 News in 2013
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Hundreds more suspects are to be investigated over historic child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham.

Today's convictions of abuse gang ringleader Sageer Hussain and seven of his associates has brought to an end one high-profile police investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham - but the National Crime Agency's (NCA) huge inquiry, potentially involving hundreds of alleged victims and perpetrators, is still just beginning.

The centre of Rotherham

The centre of Rotherham

The NCA investigation into what happened in the town between 1997 and 2003 has now engaged with 133 victims and survivors but investigators say they are confident that Professor Alexis Jay was right when she said in her report two years ago that the total number is around 1,400.

Her report said the majority of abusers came from a Pakistani background, with most victims being white girls.

The 70-strong NCA team, which will soon expand to more than 100, say they believe the number of potential suspects also runs into the hundreds.

The investigation - called Operation Stovewood - was set up at the invitation of South Yorkshire Police in December 2014 and is really an umbrella operation for a range of more focused inquiries like the one which came to end at Sheffield Crown Court on Monday.

Senior investigating officer for the NCA, Paul Williamson, said there are currently 17 individual inquiries within the overall Stovewood investigation.

Mr Williamson said 38 people have so far been designated as suspects but this is just the beginning.

Asked about a previous NCA estimate that there would be around 300 different suspects involved in Stovewood, he said: "I'm confident there are hundreds of potential suspects. There are many more we have to identify in coming months and years."

Nine people have so far been arrested

Mr Williamson said that the team was making good progress gaining the trust of victims and survivors.

He said: "We have no reason whatsoever to dispute the figures quoted by Alexis Jay of 1,400.

"Indeed our analysis shows that that is going to be pretty much accurate."

He said: "It is huge but I'm confident that the NCA is able to deliver the service to victims and survivors that they deserve and we are able to identify and arrest offenders in due course.

"That's just going to take some time."

He said: "We've given our positive commitment as a National Crime Agency, as a minimum, to engage with them. And, if we offer them the appropriate support and advice and they come out of it feeling in a better place, that, for me, is equally as successful as obtaining convictions."

Mr Williamson said the inquiry is the biggest in the UK into the exploitation of children and his team has identified more than 11,000 lines of inquiry.

He is currently in charge of a staff of 74 but he has funding for this to rise soon to 117.

He said: "I am determined to identify and bring to justice all those who have abused children in Rotherham in the period covered by Operation Stovewood.

"The scale and complexity of the investigation is extremely large and it will take a number of years to complete.

"We are working with South Yorkshire Police and other agencies to identify any suspects who may still be active today in order to reduce the potential of further offending. Operation Stovewood will make further arrests this year."

Operation Stovewood has also identified one 'organised crime group' in Rotherham - with money laundering and drug-related offences also uncovered. But those allegations have been passed on to South Yorkshire Police and other 'appropriate authorities' to investigate so Stovewood can retain its focus on child sexual exploitation crimes.

The NCA were called in by South Yorkshire Police after the force was heavily criticised in the Jay report for its failures in investigating child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham.

The trial of Sageer Hussain and his associates heard how the central witness in the case had first reported being repeatedly raped by him in 2003 - but the complaint was withdrawn after police lost the 13-year-old girl's that could have provided vital DNA evidence.

She told court: "I withdrew it because they wouldn't give me any protection and told me they had already lost my clothes, there was no DNA, it was my word against his. That is why I withdrew."

The IPCC today confirmed it is currently involved in 56 investigations into complaints against South Yorkshire Police officers in relation to their handling of child sexual exploitation cases in Rotherham.

But it has not confirmed how many officers are currently under investigation.