Probe into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham set to continue for years
A major investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham is set to continue for years, with two thirds of the 1,400 victims still to be traced and spoken to.
The National Crime Agency was brought in to investigate historic cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse in Rotherham after an independent report by Professor Alexis Jay published in 2014 suggested 1,400 vulnerable children had been abused by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage over a 16 year period while those in authority failed to act.
Officers are now looking into offences between 1997 and 2013 and have so far ‘engaged with’ 313 victims.
There are currently 23 ongoing separate investigations under way as part of Operation Stovewood, 313 victims have been spoken to and more than 180 suspects have been identified.
To date, 20 offenders have been convicted, four other suspects have been charged and 107 arrests have been made.
Philip Marshall, the senior investigating officer for the NCA, spoke of the scale of the probe after the latest successful prosecution.
Wasem Khaliq, aged 35, of Eldon Street in Sheffield city centre, was jailed for 10 years for abusing young girls in Rotherham and was then handed an additional 45 months for witness intimidation after he trolled one of his victims on Facebook and Twitter after he was first charged.“Operation Stovewood is huge. It is the single largest law enforcement investigation into what we would term non-familial child sexual exploitation and abuse in the UK,” said Mr Marshall.
“The scale and the nature of the enquiry make it a unique and unprecedented investigation.
“We get asked a lot ‘when will it end?’. The honest answer is we don’t yet know. There is no formal date set, and we are committed to continue our work until we feel we have done all we can to get justice for the victims.
“The Jay report estimated there were around 1,400 victims. So far we have engaged with just over 300, so that should give you an idea of our progress so far. I think it is safe to say that this work will continue for several years to come.”
There are around 200 officers working on Operation Stovewood but bosses ‘have identified a need for more’ and it is expected that another 50 will join the team to boost numbers.
Last year’s budget for the operation was £11.7 million, with similar costs expected next year.
Mr Marshall said: “All the investigations we have carried out so far have involved harrowing accounts from the victims of the way in which they were exploited.
“The victims were deliberately targeted because of their vulnerability and groomed for the sole purpose of becoming sexual objects for the men. They didn’t always understand they were being exploited, and were often plied with alcohol and drugs.
“Even worse they were often passed around to other men for their gratification. A horrific feature of the sexual offending we have uncovered so far was that the perpetrators would often act as a group, happy to share girls around amongst each other.”
He added: “We have so far engaged with around 300 victims, there are undoubtedly more out there, and this is a process that will take years.
“All we can do is promise those who come forward that they will be listened to and we will do all within our powers and abilities to identify any outstanding offenders and bring them to justice.
“We know there are victims out there that we have yet to speak to and still more victims are yet to be identified.
“We will speak to anyone at the point they choose to come forward and work with partners to ensure they receive the advice and support they need
“I would hope the work we have done so far would give confidence to those who have yet to speak to us. I hope the investigations that we have concluded show that they can trust and have confidence in us.”
Mr Marshall added: “Our understanding is increasing as we speak to victims and survivors, but more research into the conduct of child sexual exploitation and abuse we are seeing in Rotherham is needed to understand the problem, how it is manifested and what we can do to prevent it.
“There is no doubt that these victims have been let down. I think everyone now accepts that and the ways in which it happened are set out in some detail in the Alexis Jay Report from 2014.
“Our job is, not necessarily to right the wrongs of what happened before, I don’t think anyone can ever do that, but to do all we can to achieve some form of justice for those victims, and hopefully offer them a certain amount of closure if we can.
“Our investigation is very much victim-focused – and this means working very closely with other agencies to ensure that, when we contact a victim or survivor, we will already have jointly assessed what support or advice they might want, or whether this is already in place. We are led by them.
“Because it is a victim-focused investigation of course it is satisfying to get justice for the victims in these cases and I think make a statement to the wider community that the kinds of things they went through are completely unacceptable.”
He continued: “I think it is important to recognise that this type of exploitation is not limited to Rotherham or South Yorkshire, it happened and continues to happen in communities up and down the UK.
“What I would hope has changed is the way this is now viewed by everyone, police, local authorities and indeed the wider community. I think Stovewood is in some ways evidence of that.
“Our job here is to seek to identify and bring all offenders to justice. We are determined to do that and we will use all of the powers at our disposal to do that.”