Police turned a blind eye to allegations of sexual abuse of white girls by gangs of largely Pakistani men for more than a decade, it was claimed yesterday.
Research, reports and case files also revealed that council officials were desperate to cover up any racial link to the abuse of young girls.
The research shows that a string of warnings dating back as far as 2000 were ignored by the authorities. In many cases, police action was taken only against the victims.
Among the alleged crimes for which no one was prosecuted were:
- A 14-year-old girl being forced to perform sex acts on five men – four Pakistanis and an Iraqi Kurd asylum seeker;
- A British Pakistani man was found in a car with a bottle of vodka and a 12-year-old. Both were arrested on suspicion of stealing the car. Police also found pornographic images of the girl on the 22-year-old’s phone;
- A 14-year-old girl missing for a week was found under the influence of drugs in a car with a man 20 years older. They had had sex but he was arrested only for drug possession;
- A 13-year-old girl was found drunk at 3am in a derelict house with a ‘large group of adult males’ who had plied her with vodka. She was arrested for a public order offence while the men walked away.
According to previously confidential documents seen by The Times, police in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, found evidence of thousands of similar crimes and described ‘networks of Asian males exploiting young white females’.
The groups were reported to have trafficked victims to cities including Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham.
Despite this, just two prosecutions of groups of men for sexual abuse have taken place in South Yorkshire since 1996.
In 2002, Home Office-funded research criticised officers for treating young victims as ‘deviant and promiscuous’ while ‘the men they were found with were never questioned or investigated’.
Revealing the fears over the racial element to the abuse, a 2010 report from the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board said the crimes had ‘cultural characteristics … which are locally sensitive in terms of diversity’, but warned of ‘sensitivities of ethnicity with potential to endanger the harmony of community relationships’.
Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham, said: ‘There’s a culture here of denial and cover-up and a refusal to accept the reality that we have men living in the Rotherham community who treat young girls as objects for their sexual pleasure. It’s time to tell the truth. We must root out this evil.’
The revelations come only three months after it emerged that social services in Rotherham had known for six years that a teenage mother, murdered for bringing shame on the families of two men who had used her for sex, was at clear risk from predatory gangs.
Laura Wilson, 17, had been groomed by a string of men before she was stabbed and thrown into a canal to die for informing her abusers’ families of the sexual relationships.
Her killer Ashtiaq Asghar, who was 18 at the time, was given a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 17-and-a-half years after he pleaded guilty to murdering Laura in October 2010.
But it emerged in June that Rotherham Council’s social services were well aware she was at risk and had received information about certain adults suspected of targeting her from the age of 11.
A serious case review report confirmed that Laura had dealings with 15 agencies and identified ‘numerous missed opportunities’ to protect her.
It stated that she eventually became ‘almost invisible’ to care professional.
Rotherham Council’s Cabinet member for services for children, young people and families, Councillor Paul Lakin, said: ‘There is no question that we will do whatever we can to protect our young people from harm in whatever form that threat takes.
‘The Council has already acknowledged publicly that there have been lessons learnt from previous work, cases and investigations and that the support offered to a small number of vulnerable young people has not always reached the high standards we always look to provide.
‘From that learning, improvements have been made and new services introduced and those developments will continue.
‘Following the recommendations from a serious case review, inspections and our own learning on other cases, the sexual exploitation team has recently evolved from the original youth service
project into the new multi-agency service to improve preventative and support work along with boosting efforts to investigate cases and bring people to justice.
‘We are also maintaining our major investment in protecting children at a time when public sector budgets are under increasing pressure.
‘We have pledged our commitment by prioritising the amount of money being put into safeguarding services along with prevention and early help work with families to help ensure they get the support they need.
‘Sexual predators do come from different sections of the community and are criminals who need to be brought to justice regardless of their background.
‘We have worked closely with communities and community leaders across Rotherham in recent years to enlist their support in helping to tackle some of these issues and to educate people about sexual exploitation.
‘The response has been very positive and our commitment to continue to tackle this issue is shared by local agencies and our communities.’
A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said any suggestion that it ‘and its partners have been reluctant to tackle child sexual abuse is wrong’. He added that safeguarding children was not just about prosecuting individuals.