A mapping exercise shared with South Yorkshire Police in October 2001 said the Hussain family - who are now currently serving combined sentences of almost 100 years after finally being jailed in 2016 - had been linked to 54 young women, some of whom had been made pregnant underage.
Adele Gladman, the Home Office researcher, said today: “Without a shadow of a doubt, the information that helped lead to the convictions was available to the police 15 years ago.”
But she said in a 2002 report on her Home Office work that the mapping exercise received a “poor reception” from police at the time and was criticised as containing “unsubstantiated information”.
It comes after £440,000 inquiries into how Rotherham Council let down victims in the town were published on Wednesday - but failed to recommend any disciplinary action. Separate investigations by police watchdog the IPCC into South Yorkshire Police are due to conclude next year.
Last year, two trials finally resulted in the convictions of the brothers and their associates through Operation Clover - an investigation that was prioritised by South Yorkshire Police in the wake of the damning Jay report in 2014, which revealed there were an estimated 1,400 victims of child sexual exploitation in the town over a 16-year-period.
Arshid Hussain 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.
But it came 14 years after police were provided with Ms Gladman’s findings, which said "members of one family" were at the centre of sexual exploitation in the town.
Her 2002 report said: “The family was also alleged to be responsible for much of the violent crime and drug dealing in the town. They were believed to have access to untraceable telephones, which were often provided to young women. They seemed to have access to a number of cars, some sporty and distinctive in design.
"In total, as of October 2001, 54 young women had been linked to the family. 18 young women had identified one member of the family to the project as their ‘boyfriend’ to project workers. Several had been pregnant underage and he was the suspected father.
“Although the suspected perpetrators had been charged with different criminal offences on many occasions, the charges related to violent crime and driving offences. No charges for exploitation-related offences had been brought.”
Ms Gladman, who now runs Safeguarding Children Training and Consultancy, said it had been “bittersweet” when the brothers were finally convicted. Information from Ms Gladman was used as part of the prosecution case to support of the evidence of victims, whose testimonies in court secured the convictions in the Clover trials.
She said: “Obviously, I was absolutely delighted men who were very dangerous and abusive individuals were behind bars. But it is bittersweet. If they had acted 15 years ago, how many young people would have been spared the abuse and trauma they have gone through?
“Of course it is a great result and South Yorkshire Police really did commit to getting the positive outcome. But it should have happened at least a decade before.”
Officers under investigation over handling of information
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is now investigating “a number of officers” in relation to the handling of the information Ms Gladman provided.
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “Information produced by the Home Office researcher, and its subsequent handling, is now the subject of the ongoing IPCC’s investigations into a number of officers. We therefore cannot comment on the investigations until they have concluded next year.”
The spokesman added the convictions of the Hussain brothers and others wouldn’t have happened “without the support and courage of those women involved”.