The criminal investigation into child grooming in Rotherham is set to run for eight years, officials have revealed. The local MP has slammed the time-frame as “too long.”
So far just eleven people have been convicted in relation to the decades-long grooming scandal which saw 1400 girls in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham groomed for prostitution. Some of the girls suffered years of horrific torture and abuse as they were passed around groups of mostly Muslim men as de facto sex slaves.
But over the last year alone, 240 children have been the subject of safeguarding referrals, issued to prevent them making contact with suspected abusers, while no arrests have been made.
Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, has told the Times that any delay in bringing offenders to justice would be “totally unacceptable”.
She said: “The priority of Rotherham’s victims and survivors is to get these perpetrators off the streets and to make sure they are not grooming or abusing any other children. They want them locked up.
The police need to work a lot faster because this whole process is taking too long. Multiple safeguarding referrals suggest there are men out there who are still considered a risk to children. The NCA [National Crime Agency] must not be over-cautious. If there’s evidence, people need to be arrested.”
The investigation, named Operation Stovewood, was turned over to the NCA by South Yorkshire police after a 2014 independent inquiry found evidence that both the force and the local council had turned a blind eye to the abuse for fear of being labelled ‘racist’.
As many as 200 police officers are currently under investigation by the police watchdog for covering up the abuse, with at least one accused of taking part in the grooming and rape of young girls.
Whereas the majority of the perpetrators of abuse where Pakistani men, most of the girls were white.
Following an initial six-month scoping exercise the investigation proper was launched last June. At the time 32 officers were working on the case, expected to last three years at a cost of £5m a year.
Since then staffing has more than doubled to 69, while the Home Office has given the go-ahead to recruit another 48 officers.
Meanwhile the case, which originally focussed 29 men suspected of at least 91 serious sex offences against 82 victims, has now been split into eight separate investigations, such is the scope of the material to be examined.
A source close to the inquiry confirmed that it had “a long, long way to go” because “we’re investigating 16 years’ worth of allegations.”
The NCA have told reporters that the timing of arrests was an operational decision for the senior investigating officer, and that it is not prepared to “speculate in advance” as to when they might occur.
However, to illustrate the complexity of the case they reported that interviews with just one victim had yielded information about nine further victims, 17 witnesses and 40 potential suspects.
Commenting at the time of the hand-over of Operation Stovewood from South Yorkshire Police last June, NCA Director Trevor Pearce said that initial examination of the documents already gathered had turned up a tally of potential offenders “in the low hundreds.”
Steve Baldwin, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Stovewood, said more than 3,300 lines of enquiry had already been identified, and that the 2014 report of 1,400 victims was “a very good assessment.”
“The abuse that has taken place in Rotherham is horrific. We have gathered a huge amount of information which details some very disturbing events,” he added.
On Saturday, 150 people marched in Rotherham under the banner of the anti-Islamisation group PEGIDA in protest against the way the abuse was covered up by the authorities, some of whom even blamed the girls for their own abuse.