Rotherham Council drops legal bid to keep four men away from teenage girl in sex abuse case

Rotherham town centre
Rotherham town centre

A JUDGE has banned the identification of four men at the centre of an aborted legal attempt by Rotherham Council to keep them away from a teenage girl who officials believed was being sexually exploited.

The council had obtained interim injunctions in the Family Division of the High Court to stop the four men from contacting the girl, described by a judge as “a damaged, chaotic young person” who “has been the victim of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from different quarters over a number of years”.

The legal action was launched after the teenager - referred to in court as Child G - was found by police in a hotel room in August with one of the four men, along with vodka, cannabis and condoms.

But at the beginning of a hearing in Leeds last week to decide whether to make the injunctions permanent, lawyers for the council said it no longer wished to continue with its application due to insufficient evidence.

In a judgment handed down on Tuesday, the judge, Mr Justice Cobb, lifted the existing interim injunctions.

The judge rejected a media request to be able to name the four men, referred to in court as MM, NN, HH, LL.

He refused an application by The Times to lift a reporting restriction which prevents the men being identified. The paper did not oppose a similar restriction on naming the teenage girl.

The judge said one of the reasons for the decision was to stop the so-called “jigsaw identification” of Child G through her association with the men if they were named.

He agreed with the council’s decision to withdraw its application after it provided him with a plan for how the girl would be protected in future.

The aborted application was the first of its kind by Rotherham Council, which has been at the centre of a huge scandal since the 2014 Jay Report said that at least 1,400 children in the town had been subjected to sexual exploitation.

The move came nearly two years after a High Court judge made orders barring 10 men from the Birmingham area from approaching another teenage girl, and from approaching girls they did not know, following applications by Birmingham City Council.

The judge also ruled that these men could be identified in media reports, although the girl could not be named.

On Tuesday, the judge said: “Nobody can doubt the evil of child sexual exploitation.”

The judge described Child G as “a white female young person, in her late-teens” and said she had first come to the attention of Rotherham social services in 2012.

He said the teenager had a history of disappearing from home and not going to school as well as self-harming and misusing drugs.

In 2014, the judge said, “reports were received that she was spending time in the company of, and indeed was in relationships with, an Asian man or men.”

He said: “It was known that she had personal and sexual relationships, sequentially, with NN, HH, and LL (in that order). There were concerns about the nature of those relationships.”

He said there was evidence some of the men had assaulted her and she had told police she was scared of HH.

The judge said: “It is not clear to me, from the information provided for this specific application, why steps were not taken earlier to protect Child G by way of an order under Part IV of the Children Act 1989.”

The judge said the teenager was found in the hotel in August with LL and that MM had also been to the hotel but had gone home.

He said: “Among the items found with them in the hotel were vodka, cannabis, condoms, and Asian female clothing.

“Police protection was immediately sought for Child G. The officers attending at the scene believed that she was the victim of child sexual exploitation by LL and potentially the other males. She was immediately conveyed to, and placed in, a safe house.”

He said LL and MM were arrested on suspicion of trafficking for sexual exploitation contrary to under the Modern Slavery Act .

The judge concluded: “That this case concludes now with the local authority seeking no further injunctive order does not reflect a failure on the part of the safeguarding investigation; nor does it reflect an overly-hasty rush to justice without proper consideration of the evidence.

“I am satisfied that Rotherham Council had proper cause swiftly to take steps to protect a young person when the evidence appeared to indicate that she was at serious risk.”

He added: “No-one reading the statements of evidence, or I apprehend the outline above, will be unconcerned about Child G. She is a damaged, chaotic, young person, of that I am in no doubt.

“Tragically, she has been the victim of physical, emotional and sexual abuse from different quarters over a number of years. There is evidence that she was involved in dysfunctional relationships in the past with one or more of the associated males, but insufficient evidence to support a finding that this amounted to child sexual exploitation by any or all of them.”

The judge also said lessons needed to learned after he identified a failure in communication between the council and South Yorkshire Police over the action.

He said that despite the establishment of the Evolve team, which brought together a range of agencies to work together with the victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, “by a lapse in communication within the team” the police were not told of the council’s intention to apply for the injunctions against the men.

The judge said: “When South Yorkshire Police filed its evidence, it was apparent that, while it had concerns about Child G, it did not actively support the application for injunctions against the four associated males.”