A WATCHDOG’S report into the police’s handling of CSE in Rotherham has highlighted ongoing issues — and backed a review of the law on grooming victims’ criminal convictions.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) issued a list of recommendations calling for changes in how survivors are treated in the wake of its investigations into police misconduct by South Yorkshire Police.
Among them is a demand that survivors’ experiences are used to shape training for officers investigating CSE.
The report also supported CSE survivor Sammy Woodhouse’s call for a review into laws surrounding offences committed by young people who are being groomed or exploited.
The IOPC noted South Yorkshire Police had made improvements but said its public protection units were not complying with Home Office rules around crime recording, with “significant under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children”.
Failings highlighted in policing during the Jay Report period of 1997 to 2013 included:
- Independent sexual violence advisors not being updated and being underused or not used effectively, often acting merely as messengers.
- An absence of strategic leadership across multiple Operation Linden cases
- A lack of lack of professional curiosity on the part of officers, who tended to fous on specific crimes rather than identifying potential safeguarding concerns
- Under-use of sexual harm orders and abduction notices in Rotherham, although they were used in Sheffield.
- Social workers being left frustrated by lack of direction and action from South Yorkshire Police after sharing information about CSE.
The report added: “Many officers told us they had no knowledge or understanding of child sexual exploitation at the time of the events we investigated, and they were not informed in briefings about issues in the area.”
The IOPC said it had found “many instances” of crimes not being recorded, including reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child.
SYP presented evidence it had improved in this area, but the watchdog noted a 2014 inspection report highlighting concerns that crimes involving vulnerable adults and children reported which were directly to South Yorkshire Police’s public protection department were not all being recorded.
It said a 2020 inspection had found “no discernible improvement to this” and “significant under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children”.
The IOPC’s Operation Linden, which encompasses 91 separate investigations completed so far, has involved looking into 265 separate allegations, covering the period from 1997 to 2013, by 51 complainants, 44 of whom were survivors of abuse.
They investigated the conduct of 47 officers — eight were found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
Five have faced sanctions from management action up to a final written warning, while one hearing is still outstanding.
In many cases, the IOPC said, the officer had retired and due to legislation in place at the time, could not face disciplinary proceedings.
The watchdog’s director of major investigations, Steve Noonan said: “Throughout Operation Linden, our priority has been the welfare of the survivors whose bravery in coming forward has enabled us to shine a light on the failings of the past.
“The complexity of these investigations — which have seen us take almost 1,000 statements, log more than 1,400 exhibits, and carry out nearly 4,000 investigative actions — is unparalleled but it was vital to explore every line of inquiry thoroughly.
"Police understanding of this type of offending has evolved significantly in recent years and we must acknowledge the efforts made to improve the way these cases are dealt with.
“However, 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.”
Among the “areas for learning” identified are:
- A national recommendation, to the College of Policing, that the voices of survivors should be included in training for officers dealing with child sexual abuse
- That South Yorkshire Police should take steps to ensure its public protection units are complying with Home Office rules around crime recording
- The Law Commission to review the law around survivors’ convictions, which can have an impact of the abuse on their future life prospects.
Mr Noonan added: “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.”
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion welcome the report but said it was clear “there is much more to do to ensure that all victims and survivors of CSE receive the level of service, care and support to which they are entitled”.
She said it was concerning improvements made since 2014 “may have stalled, or even deteriorated in some areas” and called for SYP to “maintains its focus on delivering improvement for the long term”.
Mr Champion added: “I am also troubled that the report found that crimes involving vulnerable adults and children reported directly to South Yorkshire Police’s public protection department were not always being recorded.
“It is crucial that all reports of possible CSE are recorded, even where it does not prove possible to pursue further action.
“Without accurate records, warning signs can be missed, and victims left vulnerable to further exploitation. South Yorkshire Police must rectify this as a matter of urgency.”
She said: “The publication of the report provides a valuable opportunity for South Yorkshire Police to reflect on how it tackles child sexual exploitation.
“They must now implement the IOPC’s recommendations in full and ensure that the communities they serve can have confidence that the force will approach all investigations into child sexual exploitation with vigour, professionalism and compassion.”
The IOPC will publish a full report of its findings when one outstanding misconduct hearing has been completed early next year.
SYP’s deputy chief constable, Tim Forber, said: “This is a journey of continuous improvement.
“There will always be more to do and we have a determined focus on this complex area of crime. We continue to work closely with our partners within Rotherham and specialists in this area of work to support this development.”