Police ignored Rotherham abuse because of target culture, says Home Secretary

Theresa May
Theresa May
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Home Secretary Theresa May claimed today that the failure of South Yorkshire Police to tackle child sex abuse in Rotherham is an example of the “perverse outcomes” caused by the improper use of targets.

Announcing a “major independent review of the use of crime and performance targets”, Mrs May said the force may have ignored the abuse of hundreds of young girls because it was too focused on car theft and burglary.

Picture: PA Wire

Picture: PA Wire

Speaking at the Police Federation annual conference in Bournemouth, she said arbitrary targets “remove independent discretion from police officers”, adding: “Undue focus on one target can lead to crimes that are not measured being neglected altogether”.

She said: “And if anyone is in any doubt about the perverse outcomes targets can cause, they need only look at the culture of South Yorkshire Police in the early part of the last decade.

“A police force allegedly so intent on meeting Home Office targets about car theft and burglary that it ignored hundreds of young girls being abused in Rotherham and Sheffield.

“Where resources followed those so-called ‘priority crimes’, and may have been diverted away from issues like rape and sexual violence that were not on the list.

“And a management culture, according to some whistleblowers, in which senior officers’ pay was linked to these targets, meaning that it was possible to indirectly reward officers for neglecting the victims of sexual abuse.

“We can never allow that culture to exist in policing again – and I am determined to root it out. I’ve got rid of the national targets, and now I want to take on the target culture imposed at local level. Enough is enough.”

A report by Professor Alexis Jay last summer laid bare the full scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, where at least 1,400 children were abused between 1997 and 2013.

The review of police targets will be led by Irene Curtis, the President of the Police Superintendents’ Association, and will examine in detail the use of targets in each force.

Earlier, Mrs May warned the Police Federation to stop “crying wolf” after it issued a raft of warnings about the impact of spending cuts.

A year after she launched a blistering attack on the organisation, the Home Secretary struck an uncompromising tone once again.

She told rank-and-file officers gathered at the organisation’s annual conference that she accepts that “delivering more with less can be challenging and difficult”.

However, she said: “This weekend, the Federation warned that spending reductions mean that we’ll be ‘forcred to adopt a paramilitary style’ of policing in Britain.

“Today you’ve said that neighbourhood police officers are an ‘endangered species’.

“I have to tell you that this kind of scaremongering does nobody any good - it doesn’t serve you, it doesn’t serve the officers you represent, and it doesn’t serve the public.”

She reeled off a list of alarming warnings issued by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) in recent years about “demoralised” and “angry” officers, as well as claims that members of the public were being put in danger.

“The truth is that crime fell in each of those years, it’s fallen further since, and our country is safer than it’s ever been.

“So please - for your sake and for the thousands of police officers who work so hard every day - this crying wolf has to stop.”

Separately, it emerged today that 1,400 suspects have been investigated by police probing historic child sex abuse allegations against VIPs including politicians, celebrities and institutions.

The figures were revealed by Operation Hydrant, a group set up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to explore links between child sex abuse committed by “prominent public persons”.

Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the NPCC’s lead on child protection, said: “The referrals are increasing on an almost daily basis. The numbers I refer to today are a snapshot in time.”

Out of the 1,433 suspects identified, 216 are now dead.

Mr Bailey said that out of these 1,433 suspects, 666 relate to institutions and 357 separate institutions have been identified by the operation.

He said 261 are classified as people of public prominence, of these 135 come from the world of TV, film or radio, 76 are listed as politicians, 43 from the music industry and seven are from sport.

Mr Bailey said: “We are seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of reports that are coming forward.

“That has brought about a step change in the way the service has had to deal with it.”

He said it is projected that police will receive around 116,000 reports of historic child sex abuse by the end of 2015 - an increase of 71% from 2012.

He added: “There is no doubt (Jimmy) Savile has had an effect on us. We are getting dealing with more and more allegations.”

Of the 357 different institutions which have been identified by the operation, 154 are schools, 75 children’s homes, 40 religious institutions.

It also includes 14 medical establishments, 11 are institutions in communities, nine prisons, nine sports venues and 28 other institutions including military groups and guest houses.

Another 17 institutions are classified as unknown.

Mr Bailey said there is no figure for the number of victims, but said it will run into the thousands.

He said: “These figures raise the question, is more abuse being perpetrated?

“I don’t have the evidence at this moment in time to prove this one way or another.”

But he said the internet is being “abused”, adding: “I can’t help but think more abuse is being perpetuated.

“More research is needed to prove this one way or another.”

The figures are taken from police forces in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

And they relate to reports of abuse, or investigations of abuse, which police forces were dealing with in the summer of 2014.