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05.05.15

Rotherham police prioritised burglary and car crime over child abuse

A researcher who supplied the council and police with reports detailing the child sexual exploitation problem in Rotherham was told that “it was awful but burglary and car crime were policing priorities”.

Previously unseen reports from 2003 and 2006 show that the council and police in Rotherham were warned of a “very entrenched sexual exploitation problem” yet still failed to act.

Ex-South Yorkshire Police drugs analyst Angie Heal, who compiled the reports, said she "cannot fathom" why her reports did not lead to action.

The 2003 report, released under a Freedom of Information request from the Sheffield Star, said many of those involved in running child sexual exploitation rings in South Yorkshire were involved in other areas of organised crime, such as drug dealing and prostitution.

It said at the time some of the main perpetrators appeared to be pimps and drugs dealers, including an Asian family in Rotherham and a handful of people from the Afro-Caribbean community in Sheffield.

In the appendix of the 68-page report on the links between grooming and drug dealing was a list of names of those suspected to be the main perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.

A second report from Dr Heal in 2006 warned that abusers were able to carry on with “impunity” across South Yorkshire, with particular problems in Sheffield and Rotherham.

The second 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.”

Yet South Yorkshire police again failed to act. Dr Heal told the Star that there was a mix of issues from blaming victims to not understanding the issue.

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

Speaking after the reports were published, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings said that nothing was done about CSE because the girls involved were seen as prostitutes.

He said “it all went wrong” because police did not understand what grooming was or that it was child abuse.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think any of us at that time understood what grooming was and that this was grooming.

“I think we saw these girls not as victims but as troublesome young people out of control and willing participants.

“We saw it as child prostitution rather than child abuse, and I think that was broadly accepted and that’s why it all went wrong.”

South Yorkshire Police said it is holding an ongoing investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into misconduct issues.

A force spokesman: “There has been a significant increase in the number of police officers and staff dedicated to tackling child sexual exploitation and we are absolutely committed to achieving justice, stopping the harm and preventing future offending.

“We have centralised the team of officers involved in ongoing investigations into non-recent allegations of sexual exploitation, some of these investigations are large scale and involve large numbers of potential victims and potential offenders.”

A Rotherham Council spokesman said the authority had been unable to find any reference to the reports having been formally considered by the council.

The authority is now run by government appointed commissioners following the mass-resignation of the cabinet after an independent investigation led by Louise Casey into the CSE problem in the area found the entire council as “not fit for purpose”.

(Image source: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire)

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