TEN serving South Yorkshire police officers face an inquiry by a watchdog over their alleged failure to properly investigate child sex abuse cases in Rotherham as far back as 2001.
The officers, who are at a “range of ranks” at the county’s force, will be investigated after being referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission following the bombshell Alexis Jay report into the abuse of 1,400 children over 16 years.
They are accused of potential misconduct over their handling of reported child sexual exploitation during a period where police and council leaders are thought to have turned a blind eye to sickening abuse by gangs of Asian men in the town.
One allegation is that an officer argued against sexual activity with a child being categorised as sexual abuse because he thought the encounters had been “100 per cent consensual in every incident”.
Two officers face accusations that they failed to adequately investigate an incident in which a young girl was found drunk in the back of a car and an individual had indecent photographs of her on his mobile phone.
Investigators will look into an allegation that evidence was lost in relation to a report that between over a month in 2003, a victim had been raped on four occasions. The offender in the case was named and arrested.
And the IPCC will also look into an alleged lack of police action over reports in 2003 and 2006 that set out the scale of child sexual abuse going on in Rotherham.
The announcement came on the day Home Secretary Theresa May claimed shamed ex-police and crime commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright “escaped accountability” for his failings in Rotherham and was only subjected to proper scrutiny after taking on his elected role.
Mrs May told a conference in Harrogate that, despite claims Mr Wright damaged the reputation of the newly-created PCC role by refusing to resign after Alexis Jay’s bombshell report, the case showed “how the office of police and crime commissioner can ensure public scrutiny and censure”.
IPCC Commissioner Kathryn Stone said the impact the Rotherham scandal had on confidence in the police meant it was “important that a fully independent investigation is conducted to establish how South Yorkshire Police dealt with child sexual exploitation”.
She said: “I sincerely hope that victims and their families will see this investigation as a positive step towards answering the many questions they must have. I have met with South Yorkshire Police and am reassured by their commitment to fully cooperate with the investigation.”
Thirteen officers were referred to the IPCC by South Yorkshire Police. The other three officers, who were identified through a separate internal review by South Yorkshire Police rather than the Jay Report, will not face investigation at this time.
The IPCC says two do not justify an investigation involving the commission at this stage and the status of the third remains under review.
A South Yorkshire Police statement said: “The force has met with the IPCC and remains absolutely committed to assisting them with their independent investigation in any way we can to ensure the full facts are established relating to any alleged misconduct.
“We will fully co-operative with the investigation into the force’s handling of child sexual exploitation and anyone found to have not acted appropriately will be held to account.”
The publication of the Alexis Jay report in August prompted widespread condemnation of South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham council for their failure to act.
The controversy that followed its publication led to a series of high-profile resignations including Rotherham council leader Roger Stone, council chief executive Martin Kimber and council director of children’s services Joyce Thacker.
South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright resigned in September after three weeks of calls for him to quit over the failures of Rotherham council during the five years he had a senior role at the authority.
Theresa May told the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners conference in Harrogate yesterday that Mr Wright was not there because he, “as the publicly visible police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire, was held to account by the people who elected him”.
She said: “The failure by the police, Rotherham council and other agencies in Rotherham, to confront appalling child sexual exploitation, is inexcusable and exposes a complete dereliction of duty.
“We should not forget that Shaun Wright had always escaped this level of accountability as a member of the police authority and as head of children’s services at Rotherham Council.
“As a police and crime commissioner, he was visibly and directly accountable, and I am glad that finally – after three weeks – he heeded the strength of feeling in South Yorkshire and resigned.
“So when people try to use the indiscretions of individual commissioners to try to discredit the entire model, all they do is undermine their own argument.
“Because what they prove is that police and crime commissioners are delivering a level of transparency, visibility and accountability that did not exist before 2012.”
Mr Wright’s refusal to resign despite calls to do from senior leaders of all parties prompted criticism that no proper power of recall had been given if PCCs are guilty of wrongdoing.
He served as Rotherham council’s cabinet member for children’s services between 2005 and 2010 before becoming a member of the old South Yorkshire police authority. He was elected as PCC in 2012.
According to a response to an FOI request by The Yorkshire Post, Shaun Wright gave no reason for resigning when he quit his children’s services post at Rotherham council in 2010. When asked what reason he had given, the authority said Mr Wright was not “obliged to provide reasons” and so officials had no information.
This is despite Mr Wright claiming in a statement soon after the publication of the Alexis Jay report that he took “full responsibility” for the failures of Rotherham council when he was in office and “to that end I resigned in 2010”.
South Yorkshire’s chief constable David Crompton has also been under pressure to explain his force’s attitude towards CSE over the last 15 years.
Mr Crompton has pledged to investigate individual cases and stressed that his force has seen a massive increase in the number of officers and other staff devoted to tackling CSE in the last couple of years.
Last month, the the National Crime Agency (NCA) announced it would lead an investigation into outstanding allegations of CSE in Rotherham.
The NCA said it was taking on the inquiry following a request from Mr Crompton.