The probe by the ‘British FBI’ into child sex abuse in Rotherham has identified more than 7,000 lines of enquiry in its first year, more than double the total from earlier this summer.
The huge amounts of material generated by Operation Stovewood mean it is almost certain to become the largest investigation of its kind in UK history.
National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators, commissioned in the aftermath of Professor Alexis Jay’s bombshell report into Rotherham grooming gangs, say they will have gathered 10,000 documents by January.
A total of 7,300 lines of enquiry have been identified, 4,000 more than when the NCA’s last update was given in June, The Yorkshire Post has learned.
When Stovewood’s investigative stage was launched in July, the NCA reviewed three South Yorkshire Police investigations into Rotherham abuse and took over the running of one, Operation Mark.
And senior investigating officer Steve Baldwin, who is leading a team of more than 60 officers and staff, said his team had now identified six criminal investigations that will be taken forward by Stovewood.
Of these, two of the probes are being made a priority and have involve a total of nine ‘designated suspects’, where the identity of the person is known.
One of the investigations is Operation Bauno, a probe into the criminal allegations referred by Louise Casey following her inspection of Rotherham council.
Though hundreds of potential suspects, victims and survivors have been identified, officers have not yet approached any of the suspected abusers but will do so early next year.
The NCA says it is making a priority of contacting and interviewing around 50 victims and survivors and that “interviews are being conducted as quickly as possible, taking into account individual victim needs and availability”.
Its investigation began in December after the agency was asked to intervene by South Yorkshire Police.
This followed Prof Jay’s report which painted a shocking picture of hundreds of children being raped, trafficked and groomed by mainly Asian gangs in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
The report, which was published in August last year and was highly critical of police and local authority actions over 16 years, shocked the nation and led to a wave of high profile resignations.
Officials said this summer that the cost of the investigation was between £3 million and £5 million a year, and could last for another two or three years, meaning South Yorkshire Police face paying out up to £15 million by the time the process is finished.
The probe is focusing on the abuse of young children and not the apparent failures by police and council officials that allowed it to happen.
But the NCA has referred the case of two South Yorkshire Police officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are looking into alleged misconduct by officers over two decades.
The IPCC is already examining more than 100 complaints against 42 named police officers, both retired and serving, in relation to the scandal - including suggestions of ‘corrupt relationships between police officers and offenders’.