A Rotherham MP has urged the Government to foot the bill of up to £15 million for the National Crime Agency’s criminal probe into the town’s child sexual exploitation scandal.
Officials from the agency dubbed the British FBI said on Wednesday that their investigation, Operation Stovewood, could last for another three years at a cost of between £3 million and £5 million a year.
The probe into the abuse of 1,400 young girls by gangs of mostly Asian men has identified around 300 potential suspects so far and has 32 officers working on it, though this is set to expand in the coming weeks.
South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings says he is planning to submit an application for special grant funding to the Home Office to reimburse the county’s police force for the costs of the inquiry.
Currently South Yorkshire Police, who asked the NCA to come and carry out the probe last year, are due to pay for the investigation while coping with the challenges of dramatic budget cuts.
It faces a multi-million pound bill for the cost of legal representation at the inquests into the Hillsborough disaster, only a fraction of which is being borne by the Government.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion, who has campaigned for more to be done to protect the victims of child sex abuse both locally and nationally, said there was “exceptional pressure” on South Yorkshire Police’s finances.
She said: “All these resources are being pulled out of front line staff. They are about to make 150 back room staff redundant because they haven’t got the money.
“What is happening with CSE, these children are being trafficked all over the country. It is a national issue.
“From my point of view, there is no point trying to say to the Government ‘don’t cut South Yorkshire Police’. What we want to be asking for is additional funding for additional pressures.
“Had there been an earthquake with 1,400 victims in Rotherham it would be paid for nationally.
“It comes down to, does the Government want to get justice for the victims and survivors or CSE in Rotherham? Unless they put the resources in it is not going to happen.”
The Labour MP said it was vital that more resources were put into efforts to prosecute the perpetrators of abuse, to ensure they faced justice.
She said: “At the moment the NCA has 32 officers with 3,300 lines of enquiry, and each one is likely to open up another ten lines of enquiry. The reality is that among those 300 suspects there are people who will still be carrying out these crimes.
“If you are a perpetrator and you are told ‘we will get back to you in five years’, you would leave the country. We have got the evidence, we have got the victims, what we haven’t got is the resources.”
In a statement, Dr Billings said he “fully supported” the investigations by the National Crime Agency and police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission into abuse in Rotherham.
He has commissioned an independent review, to be led by former social worker Professor John Drew, into the way South Yorkshire Police handled child sex abuse allegations between 1997 and 2013.
Dr Billings said: “We need to do everything possible to ensure victims and survivors feel confident to come forward and know that they will be listened to and taken seriously and that their input will help to secure convictions against their perpetrators.
“Professor Alexis Jay said there were 1,400 victims, yet even now only a small percentage of them have come forward. I urge others to do so even if they feel their lives have moved on. We need to have as complete a picture of what happened as possible if perpetrators are to be brought to justice.
“The residents of Rotherham and South Yorkshire also need to feel confident that mistakes are in the past and that South Yorkshire Police has moved forward, learned lessons and put in place processes so that these mistakes can never happen again.
“The NCA inspection will be a costly process and it will fall initially to South Yorkshire Police to fund. However, I will be submitting a special grant application to the Home Office to reimburse the costs as the estimated amount is not available within current South Yorkshire Police budgets.”