An MP has demanded an inquiry into claims of widespread sexual exploitation of vulnerable girls in Yorkshire.
The call by Rotherham’s Denis MacShane comes after shocking details emerged of grooming and trafficking of girls by groups of men in South Yorkshire.
Confidential police and social services reports focusing on Rotherham, obtained by The Times, reveal a highly-disturbing series of abuse cases committed mainly by Asian men against vulnerable white girls dating back more than a decade.
One report in 2010 warned that thousands of such crimes were committed by organised networks of abusers in South Yorkshire each year.
The spotlight fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men, described by a judge as “sexual predators”, were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex. The murder of 17-year-old Laura Wilson in 2010 by her boyfriend also raised questions about the sexual exploitation of teenagers in the town.
Yesterday Mr MacShane demanded an inquiry into the extent of the problem which he claimed had been “kept secret” from MPs by police.
“The sexual violation and commercial exploitation of young girls by older men is a growing problem and needs far more public policy attention,” he said.
Ash Chand, minority ethnic lead for the NSPCC, said it was deeply concerned by the allegations.
“If correct, these show a systemic failure to act in the interests of young and vulnerable victims of sex crimes,” he said. “These failures left hundreds of vulnerable young girls at risk and allowed many of their abusers to continue to act with impunity for years.
“It seems that cultural sensitivities, and a view that some of these girls were simply rebellious teenagers, created a total failure to act.
“The NSPCC backs calls by the children’s commissioner to make one body responsible for all the local intelligence on the victims and perpetrators of grooming to ensure that these cases are viewed as part of a bigger picture and not as isolated incidents.”
In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said it was “leading the way” on the issue and branded claims it was deliberately withholding information as a “gross distortion”.
It was working on several investigations, two of which were large and likely to lead to more prosecutions but saving children from exploitation remained the top priority.
It added: “These cases are massively complex and need long and painstaking investigative work and obtaining the evidence necessary from young and vulnerable girls can be extremely difficult.”
Coun Paul Lakin, cabinet member for services for children, young people and families in Rotherham, said: “There is no question that we will do whatever we can to protect our young people from harm in whatever form that threat takes.
“The council has already acknowledged publicly that there have been lessons learnt from previous work, cases and investigations and that the support offered to a small number of vulnerable young people has not always reached the high standards we always look to provide.
“Sexual predators do come from different sections of the community and are criminals who need to be brought to justice regardless of their background.”