Your correspondent Paul Gibson is right to point out how important the recent child sexual exploitation trial was at Sheffield Crown Court.
It was important for the survivors to get the justice that had been denied them in the past. It was important that any others contemplating similar grooming of young people should know the kind of sentences such criminal behaviour will receive. It was important for Rotherham to know that historic wrongs are being put right. It was important for South Yorkshire Police to show they really have learnt the lessons of past mistakes. All this builds confidence for other victims past or present to come forward and know they will be listened to. Some have already done so since the trial.
What the public may not fully realise is just how complex these non-recent cases of exploitation are to put together after a relatively long passage of time. Or how the outcomes depend so crucially on victims and witnesses being strong in court as they re-live their past a few feet away from their abusers.
If they are to do this, they need a great deal of support, not only from police officers but from other support agencies as well. This came together with DCI Martin Tate’s team.
This week I met civil servants from the Home Office who said that the knowledge and experience now built up in South Yorkshire is at the forefront of this work and they want to learn from it at a national level. Who could have predicted this two years ago?
Paul Gibson worries, however, that South Yorkshire Police will be investigating itself over past failures. This is not so. Those who may have failed have been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The IPCC has had these complaints for two years and have still not reported.
This is intolerable. We need to know about any misconduct but equally those who have nothing to answer for should have the threat of disciplinary action removed.
In the meantime, dedicated officers have had a good result – with further trials to come – and we should acknowledge that as far as CSE goes, South Yorkshire Police is in a very different position today.
Dr Alan Billings
Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire