Dozens of police officers failed victims of the Rotherham sex scandal involving 1,400 children, a watchdog found – but a survivor has branded it “sickening” and a “complete waste of money”. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has released its long-awaited report, which took eight years to publish and cost £6m pounds.
It found that South Yorkshire Police “failed to protect vulnerable children and young people”, but despite investigating the actions of 47 police officers, carrying out 91 investigations, considering 20,000 documents, 800 investigation statements and 1,300 exhibits logged no officers have been prosecuted or sacked Officers who had committed gross misconduct had either retired or resigned while others criticized were given ‘advice’.
They covered 265 separate allegations made by 51 complainants, 44 of whom were survivors of abuse and exploitation. The report found eight officers had a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
They also identified 14 officers who demonstrated unsatisfactory performance, or who received management words of advice. The IOPC told how two written warnings had been handed out, seven no further actions and three management actions or ‘words of advice’.
They upheld 43 complaints and 121 were not upheld. One matter involving an officer’s gross misconduct was referred to CPS under the Data Protection Act 1998 who decided not to take any action.
Rotherham abuse survivor and campaigner, Sammy Woodhouse, 37, who was groomed and raped from the age of 14, said she was “disgusted” nobody in the police had been held accountable despite her 10-year battle for justice. And she is furious that officers had been allowed to retire on a full pension.
“I’m pleased that my complaints were upheld because still to this day people think I’m lying. People always say I’m not a real victim because he didn’t sell me or pass me around. It’s pathetic,” she told the Mirror. “But as per, not one person has been held to account for anything, despite all this evidence they have and they’ve retired and got full pensions.
“It’s been a 10-year fight and I’ve put my heart and soul into everything. I have gone into detail to the police, to the IOPC, to report after report, to training events. I am trying to have people held to account but have not been successful. If you look at all the other places such as Rochdale no-one has been held to account for that. They are just able to get away with it. I’m disgusted.”
One of the survivors, Elizabeth, 34, not her real name, abused from the age of 15 after being groomed, told The Mirror: “It’s an absolute joke and laughable. It’s sickening. There’s no accountability. It’s like the police are untouchable. It’s like police can do what they want without fear of being held responsible for it.
“It is a dangerous message not just to send to police officers but the perpetrators too. It’s disrespectful to survivors and their families. What does this say to future victims? This would put anyone off coming forward because what’s the point really? At the end of the day this is just a tick boxing exercise. The only reason they are sorry is they’ve got caught. Now it will go back to denial again.”
The South Yorkshire Police police and crime commissioner also slammed the report, saying it “fails to identify any individual accountability” and “lets down victims and survivors”. PCC Alan Billings said: “I am disappointed that after eight years of very costly investigations, this report fails to make any significant recommendations over and above what South Yorkshire Police have already accepted and implemented from previous investigations some years ago.
“It repeats what past reports and reviews have shown – that there was unacceptable practice between 1997 and 2013 – but fails to identify any individual accountability. As a result, it lets down victims and survivors.”
South Yorkshire Police (SYP) has admitted “we got it wrong and we let victims down”.
The IOPC’s investigation cataloged how teenagers were seen as “consenting” to their abuse by officers and car crime was put ahead of child sexual abuse and exploitation. It detailed how one parent concerned about a missing daughter said they were told by an officer “it was a ‘fashion accessory’ for girls in Rotherham to have an ‘older Asian boyfriend’ and that she would grow out of it”.
Another officer told one dad that his child, who’d been so savagely raped she needed surgery, may have been taught “a lesson”. In another case officers failed to prosecute a perpetrator found hiding under the bed with his victim, while the girl was held for possession of a police truncheon. Another officer, who bought steroids from a perpetrator and was accused of gross misconduct, resigned from the force before the hearing.
The true scale of the horror in Rotherham emerged in August 2014, when an independent report concluded that an estimated 1,400 children had been sexually abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, by predominantly British-Pakistani men. It revealed how children were drugged and raped, passed around to strangers for abuse and torture. Numerous children had become pregnant including a 12 year old, according to the report.
That same year the IPCC, Independent Police Complaints Commission, now the IOPC, launched its investigation into the police and their responses to allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The report said: “While acknowledging the significant changes made since then to improve the way the force deals with this kind of offending, the report found significant failures by SYP.”
About the officers who had a case to answer, the report said: “In many cases, officers had retired and, due to legislation in place at the time, could not face disciplinary proceedings. However, five of these officers received sanctions ranging from management action up to a final written warning.
“A sixth faced misconduct hearing arranged by the force earlier this year and the case was found not proven by the independent panel. Of the 164 allegations we looked into where an officer’s conduct was not under investigation, we upheld 43 complaints.”
The report said: “Of the six cases identified as gross misconduct, two went to a hearing organized by the appropriate authority, three officers were retired and therefore we found they would have had a case to answer for gross misconduct, had they still been serving . One officer we could not identify, but, if we had been able to, they would have been served with a notice of investigation at gross misconduct level. “
It revealed it had made contact with 75 survivors and said in some cases survivors had “considered, or tragically attempted, suicide”. It found there was an ‘unwritten policy’ existed to not record crimes unless there was a strong possibility that a crime would be marked as ‘detected’ and funding and performance targets were prioritized over child sexual abuse or exploitation.
One of the complaints investigated was a survivor, aged 15, had been raped in a Rotherham park in 2009. It said: “The survivor had significant internal injuries which, hospital and social care staff suspected could be consistent with rape, and they required surgery We were told by the survivor’s father that the officer dealing with the incident was insensitive and made no attempt to reassure the survivor, even suggesting to their father that this would ‘teach’ the survivor a lesson’.”
In another case the report revealed: “A woman rang SYP about an inappropriate relationship between her 12 year old stepdaughter and an older man but was told that if the survivor would not make a statement, there was nothing the police could do. The woman felt there was no point in reporting the relationship and any future concerns. Sadly, this survivor was sexually exploited for a further three to four years.”
The report said: “Many vulnerable individuals were seen as problems not victims. Especially children in care. We found many instances where crimes were not recorded when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault and sexual activity with a child.
“In one case, we were told that at a 2001 child protection conference, a Detective Constable, who had investigated offenses against a 12 year old survivor, commented the survivor had provided consent in different sexual encounters, despite legislation being very clear that it is not possible for a child of this age to give consent.”
IOPC Director of Major Investigations Steve Noonan said: “I would first and foremost like to thank again the survivors who have shown incredible bravery in speaking out about their experiences and throughout Operation Linden. Our report shows how SYP failed to protect vulnerable children and young people.
“Like other agencies in Rotherham at that time, it was simply not equipped to deal with the abuse and organized grooming of young girls on the scale we encountered. We are encouraged by the progress made to address the recommendations we made last year to ensure policing learns from this. The challenge now is to ensure that, as this type of offending continues to evolve, police forces continue to adapt so they are never again caught unprepared.”
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