Rotherham child abuse scandal: Zero officers sacked after seven-year misconduct probe

Not a single police officer has lost their job as a result of a seven-year-long corruption and misconduct investigation into the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal.

South Yorkshire Police headquarters in Sheffield. Picture: Sarah Washbourn.

Details published today by the IOPC revealed that with just one outstanding misconduct case to be heard, the strongest sanction given out to date has been a final written warning.

A total of 47 officers were investigated with eight found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six for gross misconduct.

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The IOPC said: "Five have faced sanctions from management action up to a final written warning, while one hearing is still outstanding. In many cases, the officer had retired and due to legislation in place at the time, could not face disciplinary action."

Rules on bringing cases against retired officers changed in December 2017 but those who had stepped down from their roles before that date cannot be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

It follows 51 complainants - including 44 survivors of abuse - making 265 allegations about the behaviour of police officers in relation to the scandal during 1997 to 2013.

Operation Linden was launched in 2014 following the publication of the Jay report which found there had been at least 1,400 victims of child sexual exploitation in the town over that 16-year-period - frequently at the hands of grooming gangs of Pakistani heritage. The Jay report said: "At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime."

After Operation Linden was launched in 2014 to examine the conduct of South Yorkshire Police officers, it has grown to become the second biggest inquiry in the IOPC’s history after its probe into the Hillsborough disaster involving the same force.

The last of 91 completed investigations was concluded in 2020 but the publication of the overall findings has been delayed until all misconduct hearings are completed.

In early 2016 following the conclusion of a trial of a Rotherham grooming gang which had heard multiple serious allegations about police conduct made by victims in the case, a statement by the IOPC at the time confirmed it was looking at “allegations from a failure to act on reported child sexual exploitation to corruption by police officers”.

The police watchdog is yet to publish its full report into Operation Linden and will only do so after the final misconduct hearing takes place next year.

But it has published today a 22-page 'Learning Report' including 12 recommendations for South Yorkshire Police and the College of Policing.

IOPC Director of Major Investigations, Steve Noonan said: “Throughout Operation Linden, our priority has been the welfare of the survivors whose bravery in coming forward has enabled us to shine a light on the failings of the past.

“The complexity of these investigations – which have seen us take almost 1,000 statements, log more than 1,400 exhibits, and carry out nearly 4,000 investigative actions – is unparalleled but it was vital to explore every line of inquiry thoroughly.

“Police understanding of this type of offending has evolved significantly in recent years and we must acknowledge the efforts made to improve the way these cases are dealt with.

"However, there is still work to do and we have issued these recommendations to make sure lessons are learned and mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

The recommendations include a national recommendation for forces across the country that "the voices of survivors should be included in training for officers dealing with child sexual abuse". It also states South Yorkshire Police should take steps to ensure its public protection units are complying with Home Office rules around crime recording.

The IOPC is also calling for a review of the laws surrounding offences committed by young people who are being groomed or exploited, which we are asking the Law Commission to carry out, in order to reduce the impact of the abuse on their future life prospects.

Mr Noonan added: “Survivors of abuse will no doubt be deeply concerned, as are we, that some of these problems still exist today and we urge the police to act on these recommendations urgently to provide much needed reassurance to the public.

“It is a tragedy that so many of the survivors we spoke to now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited and there must be action across the judicial system to protect vulnerable young people and safeguard their futures.”

Deputy Chief Constable for South Yorkshire Police Tim Forber said: “We fully accept the findings of the IOPC report. Since the Alexis Jay Report in 2014, South Yorkshire Police has developed a far deeper and more meaningful understanding of child sexual exploitation. Those who bravely spoke out about the harm they suffered, shone a light on our failings and became a catalyst for change, change which continues today.

“This is a journey of continuous improvement. There will always be more to do and we have a determined focus on this complex area of crime. We continue to work closely with our partners within Rotherham and specialists in this area of work to support this development.

“CSE remains an issue both in Rotherham and across the country. There will always be people who want to cause harm to children but our commitment remains firm. We are improving all of the time in spotting the early signs, preventing and detecting crimes and most importantly, safeguarding those at risk.”

There have previously been several updates about the investigation made public.

In March 2017, the IOPC revealed that nine investigations linked to the scandal had ended with ‘no case to answer’ despite serious failings being uncovered.

In July 2018, the operation was expanded to investigate the role of senior police commanders and whether there was a failure “in their statutory duty to protect children between 1997 and 2013”.

In January 2020, it was revealed that the IOPC had upheld six complaints from one woman abused as a child for several years from 2003 onwards.

According to a leaked report first reported by The Times, the watchdog said it was “very clear that you were sexually exploited by Asian men” and found police were aware of suspects but “took insufficient action to prevent you from harm”.

In November 2020, another strand of the operation found grooming gang ringleader Arshid Hussain, who was jailed in 2016, had previously been left free to target girls in the town.

In March this year, DC Ian Hampshire became the first officer to face a disciplinary hearing relating to the Rotherham scandal.

He admitted gross misconduct in failing to properly investigate allegations made by a teenage girl that she had been raped by multiple men in the town in 2007. A disciplinary panel said he should be issued with a final written warning rather than being dismissed after ruling he should not be held personally accountable for the “systemic failings” of the force at the time.

Responding to the today's report, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings said positive progress has been made.

“I am pleased that the IOPC report acknowledges that police ‘understanding and awareness of child sexual exploitation has developed and improved over time’ and also acknowledges the continuing efforts made to improve the police response.

“I also note that the IOPC believes multi-agency meetings are working well to safeguard and protect children.

“In the six years since these investigations began, South Yorkshire Police has undergone a period of reflective learning and transformation and has already made progress in some of the areas the IOPC makes recommendations on. I now expect SYP to accept all the recommendations in this report and implement them appropriately. I will ask them to account for that at my monthly Public Accountability Board meetings, where CSE is regularly reported on.

“I will ask for regular updates on how training takes into account staff turnover, and how the force is keeping abreast of any emerging issues and best practice, but I am pleased the report notes the training delivered in conjunction with Sheffield University and Barnardo’s.

“The report urges the force to listen to victims but does not reference that one of the first things I did as Police and Crime Commissioner was to set up a Victims, Survivors and their Families Panel in 2014 to hear directly from those exploited and their families.

“This Panel necessarily met in private, but I have made reference to the Panel in a number of public documents. The Panel enabled me to understand how grooming worked. Although at first the victims did not want to meet the police, from 2015 they began to speak to police officers and this had a significant impact on police learning and training here in South Yorkshire.

“As far as the recording of crimes goes, I have approved funding for this to be strengthened and will be looking for improvements.

“I note the valuable role the Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) perform in supporting victims of CSE – the ISVA service being funded by my office."

Dr Billings said he was pleased to see the IOPC following up on Rotherham CSE campaigner Sammy Woodhouse's appeal for survivors to have crimes committed under coercion by young victims removed from criminal records to help improve their life chances.

“I also support – and have done for some time – the recommendation that those victims of CSE who were coerced into committing crimes should have these crimes removed from their criminal records – Sammy’s Law.”

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