Rotherham child abuse: The background to the scandal
- 5 February 2015
- From the section Sheffield & South Yorkshire
A report commissioned in the wake of revelations that "at least" 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham has branded the local authority "not fit for purpose" and left it facing takeover by government commissioners. How did it reach this point?
The issue of child sex abuse in Rotherham first came to light in November 2010 when five men from the town's Asian community were jailed for sexual offences against underage girls.
But suspicions were already growing that the scale of the town's problem was far more widespread.
Almost two years later, in September 2012, Andrew Norfolk, a journalist on The Times newspaper, published an investigation which revealed a confidential 2010 police report had warned thousands of such crimes were being committed in South Yorkshire each year by networks of Asian men.
The town's former Labour MP, Denis MacShane, claimed police had kept the abuse secret from politicians.
"The Rotherham police exposed, arrested and broke up an evil gang of internal traffickers who were sent to prison," he said.
"But it is clear the internal trafficking of barely pubescent girls is much more widespread."
In October 2012, the council, South Yorkshire Police and other agencies set up a Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) team to investigate the issues raised in the report, although South Yorkshire Police denied it had been reluctant to tackle child sexual abuse or that "ethnic origin had been a factor" in its decisions.
But the force was criticised by the Home Affairs Select Committee and told by its chairman Keith Vaz they needed to "get a grip".
Rotherham was not the only community in the North and the Midlands to have uncovered such abuse. There have also been arrests or prosecutions of groups of men in 11 towns and cities, including Oldham, Rochdale and Derby.
"In the other cases, overwhelmingly, they were men of Pakistani origin and we need to understand why this has been happening," said Mr Norfolk.
He described a previous report into gang exploitation as a "missed opportunity" because of its failure to look at the proportion of men of Pakistani origin committing such offences.
Yet, despite the concerns, in 2012 no further prosecutions for child sex exploitation took place in Rotherham.
However, the council did say "improved public awareness" had helped it identify more young girls at risk of sexual exploitation in the town.
In January 2013, the town once again fell under the scrutiny of MPs. This time it was the borough council which appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions about the lack of prosecutions.
"In Lancashire there were 100 prosecutions the year before last, in South Yorkshire there were no prosecutions," he said.
"We're talking about hundreds of victims, of vulnerable young girls, who have not been protected because, at the end of the day, what people are looking for are prosecutions."
The council's chief executive Martin Kimber apologised to "young people and families that have been let down" and blamed "systemic failures".
He also commissioned an independent inquiry, in September 2013, to examine how cases have been handled by social services from 1997 onwards.
In the same month, South Yorkshire Police enlisted the help of children's charity Barnardo's to help tackle child sexual exploitation. Barnardo's subsequently said the council had made improvements.
However, in August 2013, the council's deputy leader stepped down over claims he knew about a relationship between a girl in care and a suspected child abuser. Jahangir Akhtar denied the claims.
In July 2014 the town's mayor Barry Dodson quit over separate claims he sexually abused a 13-year-old girl in 1987. He did not comment on the claims.
Following the publication of the Jay Report, South Yorkshire Police said up to 29 people had been charged with child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham. However, the force said it was unable to say how many had been convicted.