Hundreds of children who were at risk of sexual exploitation have been let down by the police, according to a whistleblower.
Ann Lucas, who ran the sexual exploitation service in the city of Sheffield, told the BBC that although she had regularly passed on details of alleged abuse cases, senior officers at South Yorkshire Police refused to act.
The force is already the subject of an investigation following revelations of mass child sex abuse in the town of Rotherham, with police accused of failing to act due the fact the perpetrators were predominantly Muslim.
Sheffield has previously been seen as a model for tackling child abuse, with the local council setting up a specialist unit to deal with young prostitutes in 1997. The unit was deemed so successful that in 2001 the council received funding from the Home Office to create the Sexual Exploitation Service.
However, Ann Lucas, who ran the service from its creation in 1997 until her retirement in 2012, is highly critical of superior officers, whom she accuses of repeatedly ignoring abuse reports.
She said that around 2003 the service started tracking alleged child abusers, the addresses where they were said to be abusing children and their car registration details. Despite the information being passed on to the police, no prosecutions followed.
“There were arrests and child abduction notices [were served], so they might move off that young person,” she said, “But without the prosecuting strand being strong, we could divert the person away but with the message [to the abusers] that you could get away with this, so they would move on to other young people.”
She also says that in 2006, when the service became aware of allegations of teenage girls being abused by Iraqi Kurdish men, she showed evidence to the chief superintendent of Sheffield. Despite the evidence containing accounts of rape and physical violence such as kicking, punching and burning with cigarettes, the chief superintendent refused to act.
“I was told that [the force’s] priorities were burglary and car crime and we had to cope with no extra police resources. It was extraordinary. How could anyone in their right mind think that burglary and car crime is more important than young people being raped?”
South Yorkshire Police have said: “This is a question that only those involved can answer. South Yorkshire Police will look into these allegations and where there is evidence of any misconduct referrals will be made to the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission].”