A WATCHDOG’S in-depth report into police misconduct during the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal found widespread “systemic failures” — but no officer will be sacked of face prosecution.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct today published its over-arching report into South Yorkshire Police’s mishandling of CSE during the period covered by the damning Jay Report, from 1997 to 2013.
The findings will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the fallout from the scandal, with the report painting a sorry story of officers lacking professional curiosity, agencies failing to work together, the scale of CSE not being recognised and victims being blamed for their own abuse.
Social workers told the watchdog victims were seen as “runaways” and “petty criminals”.
The IOPC has investigated 265 complaints from survivors and upheld 43, but the only disciplinary outcome was seven officers being given final written warnings, while many escaped being held to account as they had retired, including three who would have faced gross misconduct allegations.
The report features disturbing accounts from survivors detailing how they were blamed or ignored and the toll this took, including one who recounted: “I blamed myself entirely for the years of sexual abuse.
“On top of this I was told repeatedly by the police that I was responsible for my own actions — I hated myself.
“I believed throughout my childhood that I was a target for abuse because I was ugly as well as evil.”
The IOPC said: “We are acutely aware that these were children, and young people, exploited over many years.
“They were assaulted, threatened with violence, coerced, groomed, and raped.
“The issues we uncovered included officers accepting, at face value, what they saw, instead of employing professional curiosity to safeguard vulnerable, young victims.
“We found a culture that did not always recognise survivors as victims or understand that neither did the children and young people on the receiving end of perpetrators’ grooming and abuse.”
The IOPC found police failed to recognise the scale of abuse and effectively tackle it, crimes were not recorded, there was a lack of accountability, and other crimes such as burglary and vehicle crime were prioritised.
The report added: “We are encouraged by SYP’s response to the recommendations and believe this demonstrates its commitment to taking action so that the issues in this report are never repeated.”
The report recounts how one former child protection officer explained how back in 2003, it would not have been normal practice to try to speak to a potential abuse victim directly to identify if they were willing to make a formal complaint, saying: “You didn’t go looking for complaints.
“Now, if I’d been passed this information, I’d have done a visit and then another visit and another visit but, in those days, you didn’t do it, they didn’t have to be crimed and it was all just forgotten about.”
Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber apologised, saying the Jay Reporthad exposed “a stark reality of our failings in handling CSE”.
He said survivors’ accounts had caused “a seismic change in policing crimes of this nature” and they now had “effective and robust systems”.
These included multi-agency teams in Rotherham working closely to share intelligence on suspects and identify children who may be at risk.
Officers in CSE cases worked “compassionately and with utmost professionalism to stop that harm, to seek justice and to ensure the girls are properly safeguarded”.
The force had new IT systems, had dramatically improved its crime recording and had “a deep and ingrained understanding of CSE in all of its forms”, Mr Forber said.
Campaigns were run to inform the public and hotel, takeaway and leisure staff were all trained to “spot the signs”.
Mr Forber added: “I believe we properly positioned now to be able to spot emerging trends and to act quickly to safeguard those most at risk.
“Whilst I am confident we are a very different force today, I will not lose sight of the fact that we got it wrong and we let victims down.”