VIDEO: 1,400 children sexually abused in Rotherham

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The leader of Rotherham Council has resigned after it emerged at least 1,400 children in the town were subjected to ‘appalling levels of crime and abuse’ between 1997 and 2013.

It follows an independent investigation into child sexual exploitation.

Rotherham Council Leader Roger Stone has stepped down from his position after leading the council since 2003.

Rotherham Council Leader Roger Stone has stepped down from his position after leading the council since 2003.

Coun Roger Stone resigned this afternoon after the investigation found girls as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators. READ MORE: Child protection staff will not be disciplined - CLICK HERE.

READ MORE: The Star’s opinion column - CLICK HERE.

VIDEO: Press the play button to watch our video report from the official news conference.

Children were abducted, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, beaten, doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight and made to witness violent rapes.

The shocking report, by Professor Alexis Jay OBE, was published this afternoon.

It says both South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council failed to protect some of the most vulnerable children in the borough with clear evidence of child sexual exploitation being ‘disbelieved, suppressed or ignored.’

In the early to mid 2000s, child sexual exploitation had ‘little priority’ within South Yorkshire Police or Rotherham social services, the report said.

Child victims were often blamed for what had happened to them and no action was taken against the perpetrators.

Many in positions of authority failed to acknowledge that any kind of sexual activity with a child was a crime, meriting investigation and prosecution.

In his resignation statement, Coun Stone said: “Having considered the report, I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report and it is my intention to do so.

“For this reason, I have today agreed with my Labour Group colleagues that I will be stepping down as leader, with immediate effect.”

Chief Superintendent Jason Harwin, South Yorkshire Police district commander for Rotherham, said: “I’d like to start by offering an unreserved apology to the victims of child sexual exploitation who did not receive the level of service they should be able to expect from their local police force. 
“We fully acknowledge our previous failings.

“We have completely overhauled the way in which we deal with CSE and that’s been recognised in the report and by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary earlier this year.

“In the last four years we’ve made significant strides in how we protect those at risk from CSE, and the report found that the issue is ‘clearly a priority’ for South Yorkshire Police.”

Ms Jay’s report said the ‘collective failures of political and officer leadership’ with regards to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2009 were ‘blatant’.

It said the wider council and the Safeguarding Board failed to exercise their scrutiny and challenge role regarding child sexual exploitation at a time when it was most required, ultimately meaning no one was held to account.

During the period investigated, Ms Jay found three separate reports identified child sexual exploitation as a major issue in Rotherham.

However, these reports were ignored and no action was taken to implement changes or procedures to tackle the problem.

The investigation found almost all the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation were identified by victims as being of Pakistani-heritage.

While ethnic issues were a source of some apprehension to some officials, the investigation found no evidence they influenced decisions in individual cases.

However, there was a widespread perception some senior people in the council and the police wanted to ‘downplay’ the ethnic dimension to the crime.

The report said there had been progress since 2009 and ‘many improvements’ in the last four years by both the council and the police.

However, the investigation stresses ‘there are still matters for children’s social care to address such as good risk assessment, which is absent from too many cases, and there is not enough long-term support for the child victims’.

Professor Alexis Jay OBE was commissioned to carry out the independent investigation by Rotherham Council in October 2013.

Last January Rotherham Council’s chief executive Martin Kimber appeared in front of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions about the issue.

Chairman Keith Vaz asked why Rotherham had ‘failed so dismally’ to protect young women in the town.

The spotlight fell on Rotherham in 2010 when 17 year old Laura Wilson, was murdered by Ashtiaq Asghar after she threatened to reveal they’d had a sexual relationship.

A serious case review found Rotherham Council had missed ‘numerous opportunities’ to support her before her death and she was ‘almost invisible’ to some services, although workers could not have prevented the killing.

Following the case, a national newspaper claimed details from 200 restricted-access documents showed police and child protection agencies in Rotherham were aware for a decade that young women in the town were being groomed and yet nobody was prosecuted.