The missed chances to stop Rotherham’s child abusers

Survivor Sammy Woodhouse arrives at a council meeting in Rotherham town hall  where reports were published that reveal how senior managers' failures contributed to the town's child abuse scandal. Picture Scott Merrylees.
Survivor Sammy Woodhouse arrives at a council meeting in Rotherham town hall where reports were published that reveal how senior managers' failures contributed to the town's child abuse scandal. Picture Scott Merrylees.
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Families of children who were sexually abused by four brothers in Rotherham repeatedly told the police what was happening – but evidence went missing and they were not brought to justice for more than a decade.

The Hussain family are now serving combined sentences of almost 100 years after finally being jailed in 2016 for offences against a number of girls, largely carried out in the early 2000s.

They were jailed two years after Prof Alexis Jay’s report revealed there were an estimated 1,400 victims of sexual exploitation in the town between 1997 and 2013.

In one case, a father provided his daughter’s diary detailing abuse at the hands of Arshid Hussain and gave an 11-page statement to the police, but both items were lost. In another, clothes belonging to a 13-year-old who had been raped by Sageer Hussain that could have provided DNA evidence to back up her allegations went missing.

It comes after it was revealed earlier this week that police were repeatedly warned about the activities of the brothers by Home Office researcher Adele Gladman in 2001 and 2002, with a mapping exercise she produced linking them to more than 50 young women in the town given a “poor reception” instead of action being taken.

Sammy Woodhouse, an abuse survivor who waived her anonymity earlier this year, said her father had found her diary detailing her involvement with Arshid Hussain when she was 14 and went on to make a statement to police.

Hussain also made her 
pregnant and she had a child when she was 15.

Now aged 32, she said it is difficult to accept that action was not taken at the time.

“We could have got justice when I was 14 or 15. You had DNA because I was pregnant, I had a diary – how much more evidence do you need?” she said. “It was pretty much a slam-dunk case.”

Miss Woodhouse was 30 when Hussain was finally convicted of abusing her and other children following a three-month trial at Sheffield Crown Court in late 2015 and early 2016.

But she praised the South Yorkshire Police officers involved in Operation Clover, the investigation that finally brought Hussain and his brothers to justice.

Following two trials, Arshid Hussain, inset, was jailed for 35 years, Basharat Hussain for 25 years, Bannaras Hussain for 19 years and Sageer Hussain for 19 years. Their uncle and two of their cousins were also jailed, with a total of 13 people being given combined sentences of 199 years.

“I think that they did a great job. I have got so much respect for them as individuals and as a team. Up until I met the Clover team, I thought every single cop was bad and I hated cops.

“Clover has helped me turned that around and made me realise there are good people, good professionals in the force,” said Miss Woodhouse, who has written a book about her experiences which is due to be published next year.

In the second trial, the jury heard one victim describe how officers in 2003 had offered her “no protection” after she told them she had been sexually 
assaulted on several occasions by Sageer Hussain. She withdrew the allegation at the time after she said she was told by police clothes that could have provided DNA evidence had been lost and “it was my word against his”.

The girl’s father said today that police did not treat the incident seriously. “In effect, it was like we had lost a chocolate bar. It was DNA evidence. Really, there should have been a conviction in 2004, simple as that. Instead, we had to wait 12 years.”

Miss Gladman worked on a Home Office-funded project to investigate grooming in the town in the early 2000s and was assisted by the Risky Business youth project, which supported victims. She said she does not know what the police did with a report she produced in 2002 which said “members of one family” were at the centre of sexual exploitation. She said the involvement of the Hussains in such crimes was a “known fact”. “We would go to strategy meetings, child conferences and everybody would talk about these guys,” she said.

The police watchdog, the IPCC, is now investigating the Rotherham scandal, with 35 officers under investigation.