In the same week, the NSPCC reported that its helpline had reached record levels of reports of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and abuse. No one knows the true scale of CSE in the UK but the ‘pandemic’ and the social fracturing it has wreaked has diverted attention from a ‘running sore’.
Operation Linden, the subject of the IOPC report, began in 2014 after the Jay Report concluded that more than 1,400 children were targeted in Rotherham by predominantly Asian grooming gangs from 1997 to 2013.
Jay details rapes ‘by multiple perpetrators, [children] trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated . . . doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.’
This review by the IOPC is its second-largest after Hillsborough and it examined complaints from 51 people, 44 of whom are survivors of abuse. The investigation concluded in 2020 but the full report will not be published until next year after the conclusion of one outstanding police misconduct hearing.
Of 47 officers who were subject to investigation for misconduct, only five have faced sanctions ranging from ‘management action’ (a telling-off) to a final written warning. Not one has been dismissed and several avoided being disciplined altogether by taking advantage of lax police policies to resign or retire.
The IOPC insists that the understanding and awareness of child sexual exploitation within the police force has improved but it makes 12 recommendations to tackle what it calls ‘systemic issues’.
The report highlights multiple ‘ongoing failings’ and says police must ‘do more to listen to survivors’. It says forces must ‘improve the treatment of those who report abuse’ and recommends that leaders ensure that their ‘officers are better equipped to investigate offences’. Sadly, it provides little comfort that any of its ‘learning’ will find fertile soil.
Steve Noonan, the 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.’
The report recommends that the Law Commission reviews offences on the book that were committed by children when they were being groomed or abused and examine whether an appropriate ‘defence’ might be used to nullify such convictions.
‘The voices and experiences of survivors’ are still not included in training sessions and the College of Policing is urged to incorporate them: ‘Listening to and understanding survivor experiences can be a powerful way to raise awareness of CSE-related issues . . . and develop empathy,’ the report said.
David Tucker, crime lead for the College, parroted: ‘Child sexual abuse has a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities across all sections of society and remains one of the biggest challenges facing the police service. The Operation Linden investigation and [Learning] report . . . provides a detailed source of information and we will carefully consider how its findings and recommendations can inform our national training and guidance on child sexual abuse and exploitation.’ Ye Gods!
Incredibly, the IOPC says that South Yorkshire is ‘failing to comply with Home Office rules around crime recording’, with ‘significant’ under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children. IOPC inspectors found ‘no discernible improvement’ in recording reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child.
Problems also persist around ‘how police officers and staff deal with child sexual assault victims’ and there are ongoing deficiencies in communication. This is intolerable.
The entire IOPC report makes no mention of race. There is a coded reference to ‘working with the local community’ and to ‘missed opportunities to approach community leaders for their views on how to develop community cohesion and/or identify any actions South Yorkshire Police could consider to help tackle child sexual exploitation’.
In a terrifying paragraph, South Yorkshire Police told the IOPC that it has ‘started a mapping exercise across its four districts to ensure it has contacts in all identified communities to respond more promptly in the future to their needs, understand the potential impact of any national or international incidents on them, and to offer reassurance and support when necessary.’ What has any ‘national or international incident’ to do with ongoing child sexual abuse?
Whatever they are engaged in doing, it is not working. Disturbingly, IOPC inspectors detailed a ‘deterioration’ at South Yorkshire since 2015/16, with officers and staff ‘without the right skills or training . . . often [still] expected to lead on CSE investigations’. Training was not ‘up-to-date’. Tim Forber, South Yorkshire’s Deputy Chief Constable, said the force ‘fully accepted’ the findings.
The report also identifies continuing ‘weaknesses’ in our national capacity to recognise and respond to child sexual exploitation in a timely and effective manner. This is gross political, social and policing failure.
Continued calls for a ‘national multi-agency approach to identify the major issues for policing and priorities for learning’ is cant: yet another diversion, and a poor excuse to avoid dealing with child protection issues that are well known – action is what is required now.
Many of the Rotherham victims are now adults; traumatised, not just by their initial abuse, but by the delay and prevarication of those charged with protecting them and the failure to hold their torturers to account. ‘Justice delayed, is justice denied’, as Gladstone said.
The Ministry of Justice, the IOPC, the College of Policing, South Yorkshire Police, politicians and ‘community leaders’ have run out of excuses and must get on with their job of protecting vulnerable children from predators, regardless of their ethnicity.