IOPC urges police to act on issues that 'still exist' after Rotherham

Police watchdog calls on South Yorkshire officers to act on recommendations over issues ‘that still exist today’ after Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal

  • IOPC carried out a series of investigations into South Yorkshire Police’s actions
  • Watchdog says police must do more to support survivors of child sexual abuse  
  • It said survivors have criminal records due to their actions while being exploited 

Police must act now over issues that ‘still exist today’ following the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal, a watchdog has said.  

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said officers must do more to support survivors of abuse and listen to their experiences, after it carried out a series of investigations into South Yorkshire Police’s actions in the town.

The watchdog said it is ‘deeply concerned’ that problems still exist and said it was a ‘tragedy’ that many survivors now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited.

It has now made several national and local recommendations to tackle systemic issues identified and help improve the treatment of those who come forward to report abuse.

Rotherham became unfortunately synonymous with child sex abuse in 2010 when five men were jailed for sexual offences against under-age girls. 

A 2014 inquiry found there were more than 1,400 victims of grooming and sex exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Now an IOPC report released on Tuesday said it recognised that understanding and awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has developed and improved over time, but found a number of areas that needed improvement.

Police must act now over issues that ‘still exist today’ following the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal, a watchdog has said 

Rotherham – The issue of child abuse in the town first came to light in 2010 when five Asian men were jailed for sexual offences against under-age girls.

A 2014 inquiry found there were more than 1,400 victims of grooming and sex exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Rochdale – The trial of nine men for grooming young white girls for sex attracted widespread public outrage and sparked a national debate when they were convicted in 2012.

The gang received jail sentences of between four and 19 years for offences committed against five girls – aged between 13 and 15 – in and around Rochdale between 2008 and 2010.

The case returned to the public consciousness in 2018 when the BBC broadcast its Three Girls drama based on the experiences of some of the victims.

Newcastle – A total of 17 men and one woman were convicted of, or admitted, charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution, in Newcastle in 2017.

Older men preyed on immature teenagers who were plied with cocaine, cannabis, alcohol or mephedrone (M-Cat), then raped or persuaded into having sexual activity at parties known as ‘sessions’.

The case raised huge controversy after a convicted rapist was paid almost £10,000 of taxpayers’ money to spy on parties where under-age girls were intoxicated and sexually abused.

Northumbria Police launched a major investigation after receiving information from social workers and initially spoke to 108 potential victims. Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.

Oxford – A group of men who abused teenage girls in a vehicle they called the ‘s**gwagon’ were jailed for a total of nearly 90 years in June 2018.

The men – aged 36 to 48 – befriended vulnerable girls as young as 13 before plying them drink and drugs at ‘parties’ in Oxford.

The eight men – branded ‘predatory and cynical’ by a judge – were jailed for between seven and a half and fifteen years each.

Bristol – Some 13 Somali men were jailed for more than a total of more than 100 years after they were convicted in 2014 of running an inner city sex ring.

Victims as young as 13 were preyed upon, sexually abused and trafficked across Bristol to be passed around the men’s friends for money.

Aylesbury – Six men were jailed in 2015 for grooming vulnerable under-age white girls between 2006 and 2012.

The Old Bailey heard victims would be plied with alcohol and forced to perform sex acts for as little as ‘the price of a McDonalds’.

Peterborough – A total of 10 men were convicted of child sex crimes in the town, including ‘predatory’ restaurant boss Mohammed Khubaib.

He was jailed for 13 years at the Old Bailey in 2015, after he was found guilty of forcing a 14-year-old girl to perform a sex act on him and nine counts of trafficking for sexual exploitation, involving girls aged from 12 to 15, between 2010 and 2013.

Telford – In 2018, Telford became the focus of the now sadly familiar stories of abuse.

A Sunday Mirror investigation concluded that around 1,000 children could have been sexually exploited in the Shropshire town over a 40-year period, leading to calls for a public inquiry. 

It said inspectors ‘remain worried’ that, despite multiple reports and recommendations, there are still areas of concern at South Yorkshire Police and said there had been a ‘deterioration’ since improvements made in 2015/16.

The IOPC said its investigations found that officers and staff without the right skills or training were often expected to lead on CSE investigations and recommended that South Yorkshire Police ensured training was up-to-date.

It said the voices and experiences of survivors should be included in training sessions and recommended the College of Policing incorporated the voices of survivors in training.

It said: ‘Listening to and understanding survivor experiences can be a powerful way to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation-related issues in training sessions and develop empathy.’

The report also said the IOPC found many instances where crimes were not recorded when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child.

Inspectors found ‘significant’ under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children reported to South Yorkshire Police’s public protection department and said the force should take steps to ensure it is complying with Home Office rules around crime recording.

Investigations also highlighted many issues with how police officers and staff dealt with child sexual exploitation victims and survivors, including victims regularly complaining they had not been kept updated.

The IOPC said many survivors have criminal records because of their actions while being exploited, with their futures being adversely impacted as a result.

It recommended that the Law Commission looks to identify whether any changes to legislation would be appropriate in order to reduce the impact of the abuse of their future life prospects, including defences to crimes carried out during exploitation and the potential to filter convictions in such circumstances.

The report added that one of the key findings of its investigations was that the issues around CSE were not recognised quickly enough and officers were not equipped with the skills or experience they needed to deal with the problems they were faced with, and recommended a national multi-agency approach to identify the major issues for policing and priorities for learning.

Steve Noonan, IOPC director of major investigations, said: ‘Survivors of abuse will no doubt be deeply concerned, as are we, that some of these problems still exist today and we urge the police to act on these recommendations urgently to provide much-needed reassurance to the public.

‘It is a tragedy that so many of the survivors we spoke to now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited and there must be action across the judicial system to protect vulnerable young people and safeguard their futures.’

He added: ‘There is still work to do and we have issued these recommendations to make sure lessons are learned and mistakes of the past are not repeated.’

The learning and recommendations have been published as part of Operation Linden, the IOPC investigation into the police response to non-recent child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the Rotherham area.

Linden, which began in 2014 after the Jay Report concluded that more than 1,400 children were targeted in the town, has involved 91 separate investigations and is the second largest operation carried out by the IOPC after Hillsborough, investigating complaints by 51 people into 256 separate allegations between 1997 and 2013.

The last investigation concluded in 2020 and the full report is expected to be published next year, after the conclusion of the final police misconduct hearing.

Five officers out of 47 investigated during Operation Linden have faced sanctions over their conduct – from management action to a final written warning.

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