THE HEAD of the probe into allegations of child sexual abuse in Rotherham said it could take another six years to complete — and urged any victims who had not yet spoken to officers to come forward.
Mr Philip Marshall, senior investigating officer of Operation Stovewood, said delays caused by Covid meant it could take officers until 2026 to bring all of the remaining offenders to justice — and another year or two to review any cold cases before the operation was closed.
The NCA has today launched a new appeal to reach victims and survivors who have not yet come forward, as it believes there could still be hundreds more out there.
It has launched appeals on social media, plus leaflets and posters, printed in English, Urdu and Polish, placed in community and public buildings around Rotherham.
Operation Stovewood, which is the single largest law enforcement investigation into non-familial child sexual abuse (CSA) in the UK, is looking at allegations of abuse in the Rotherham area between 1997 and 2013.
It has so far seen more than 200 suspects arrested, with 20 people convicted and jail terms totalling almost 250 years handed down.
Mr Marshall said: “Our work at Operation Stovewood continues with more than 30 investigations underway and over 1,000 nominated victims identified.
“It is a lengthy and complex process and we expect our work to continue for some years yet.
“As an agency we are determined to do everything in our power to reach out to those victims or witnesses who are yet to come forward, and that is what this new appeal is all about.
“We recognise that this can be, for some, a difficult step to take but I offer reassurance to victims that they will be listened to and offered the appropriate support by the NCA and our partners.”
Mr Marshall predicted in December 2020 that it could take between five and seven years to finish all of the team’s investigations — but now believes it could take until about 2028.
“Given some of the impact and damage Covid has had on our investigation, and across the criminal justice system, that has slowed our progress down a little bit,” he said.
“There’s lots of work still left to be done and lots of engagement with victims, and lots of engagement with the CPS.
“We are trying to deal with the unknown because I don’t know how many victims are still within the community.”
Mr Marshall said the NCA expected to bring more charges this year and his team was having regular discussions with the CPS, which made decisions on whether to charge.
“Our three key objectives remain; focusing on the victims, identifying and bringing offenders to justice, and rebuilding public confidence,” he said.
“More than 200 officers are working on Operation Stovewood, and they are as determined as ever to meet those objectives and get the best possible outcome for those victims.
“We have identified more than 1,000 victims to date and a lot of those individuals would have been known to the NCA, SYP or other services before the investigation commenced.
“We want to reach out further in the community to those who may have been victims in the past who might now have been known to services as being victims.”
Potential victims and witnesses can contact the team via the NCA website, www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/Stovewood or by calling the NCA Control Centre on 0370 496 7622 quoting Op Stovewood.