Rotherham abuse scandal: South Yorkshire Police still under-recording crimes against children

Crimes against vulnerable children are still being significantly under-recorded by the police force at the heart of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal, a watchdog has warned.

Deputy Chief Constable Police Tim Forber said South Yorkshire Police is "on a journey of continuous improvement"

The Independent Office for Police Conduct has published a ‘learning and recommendations’ report in connection with its long-running Operation Linden investigation into allegations of police misconduct and corruption connected to the Rotherham scandal.

The operation examined allegations against South Yorkshire Police officers in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 when at least 1,400 children in the town were victims of CSE. The IOPC said it had “found many instances where crimes were not recorded when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child”.

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It added there had been “a significant improvement in the recording of sexual offence crimes since 2014” but highlighted ongoing concerns about the recording of crimes involving vulnerable children and adults. A 2020 inspection found “no discernible improvement” on the issue.

“In particular, inspectors found significant under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children,” the IOPC said.

The watchdog has recommended that South Yorkshire Police “takes steps” to ensure its crime recording practices comply with Home Office rules. It noted there is “a great deal of crossover” between CSE and other offences such as ‘county lines’ drug dealing in which young people are entrapped to participating in.

IOPC Director of Major Investigations Steve Noonan said: “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.”

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said she was “troubled” that reports of possible CSE were not always recorded.

She said: “Without accurate records, warning signs can be missed and victims left vulnerable to further exploitation. South Yorkshire Police must rectify this as a matter of urgency.”

The full findings of Operation Linden, which began in 2014, are yet to be published but the IOPC has confirmed not a single police officer has lost their job over the scandal.

With just one outstanding misconduct case to be heard, the strongest sanction given 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.

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 South Yorkshire police officers in what is 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.

CSE campaigner Sammy Woodhouse, one of those who made complaints about police conduct in Rotherham, said: “It is absolutely disgusting no one has lost their job and people have retired with their pensions.

“There has been no punishment for professionals in any shape or form. Thousands of families have been affected by what happened but no one will be held to account.”

Force 'on journey of improvement'

South Yorkshire Police has fully accepted the IOPC findings.

Deputy Chief Constable Police Tim Forber said: “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.”

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