Police aim to set up survivors' group for child sex abuse victims after Rotherham scandal

South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings
South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings

A ‘SURVIVORS’ group’ for child sexual abuse victims could be formed in South Yorkshire to help police develop improved ways of investigating cases in the wake of the Rotherham scandal.

The South Yorkshire force has undergone extensive changes since the child sexual abuse scandal broke in 2012, but the senior command team has said it wants to continue with further improvements.

Current arrangements with separate child and adult protection teams will be scrapped and one new public protection unit formed, with all staff members trained in dealing with cases that involve children, providing greater flexibility in the way they operate.

But a further development is expected to be the creation of a group for those who have experienced exploitation themselves, who are best placed to tell police how they can improve the way they react when cases are exposed.

EDUCATION: Yorkshire's truancy rates remain worst in England, despite more parents facing fines
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber said the aim was to set up a victims’ and survivors’ group to help guide the force’s progress but he warned the need to continue learning was permanent.

He said: “I cannot stress how difficult and complex these cases are.

“When I look at some of the stories of people who have survived CSE (child sexual exploitation), it is beyond tragic.”

The aim would be to use the group for feedback on how cases could have been better handled, even in situations where convictions had been secured.

“We have done an awful lot with partners in terms of training,” he said.

“The issue with CSE is that it is often a hidden crime.

“I think there is more to do about how to develop eyes and ears on the ground. It can often be a snippet of information which leads to something more significant.”

Although not all prosecutions succeed, the justice system was now more ambitious about the type of cases it would take to court, he said.

Mr Forbes was speaking at the public accountability meeting of South Yorkshire police commissioner Alan Billings.

Dr Billings said: “Survivors say they would much rather have their day in court, even if it was lost, because it gives closure.”

In 2014, a report by Professor Alexis Jay revealed that the large-scale exploitation of 1,400 victims had been effectively ignored by police and other agencies for more than a decade.

The National Crime Agency then began Operation Stovewood, an investigation into abuse in Rotherham, after it was called in by South Yorkshire Police three years ago. It is the biggest such inquiry in the UK, with a £6.9m annual budget.

Last month, senior investigating officer Paul Williamson told a briefing that there were now 1,510 potential victims of abuse between 1997 and 2013.

He also revealed that his team of 144 officers had identified 110 “designated suspects”.