At least 1,400 children were subjected to appalling sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, according to a report published yesterday.
Children as young as 11 were gang raped, groomed, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated, the report found. In more than a third of cases, the abused youngsters were already known to agencies.
The report, which laid bare a 16-year reign of terror, also revealed that there had been three previous inquiries into child abuse in the South Yorkshire town. The report’s author, Professor Alexis Jay, concluded that there had been “blatant” collective failures by Rotherham Council.
Last night, council leader Roger Stone announced he was stepping down with immediate effect. But chief executive Martin Kimber said no council employees will face disciplinary action because there was no evidence to support action against individuals.
“Officers in senior positions responsible for children’s safeguarding services throughout the critical periods when services fell some way short of today’s standards do not work for the council today,” Mr Kimber said. “To that extent, I have not been able to identify any issues of professional practice related to current serving officers of this council that would require me to consider disciplinary procedures.”
Prof Jay, a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish Government, said she found examples of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone”.
She said: “They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.”
The report said failures at the council over the first 12 years she looked at were “blatant”, as the seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers and not seen as a priority by South Yorkshire Police. Prof Jay said police “regarded many child victims with contempt”.
These failures happened despite three reports between 2002 and 2006 “which could not have been clearer in the description of the situation”. She said the first of these reports was “effectively suppressed” because senior officers did not believe the data. The other two were ignored, the professor said.
The report said: “By far the majority of perpetrators were described as ‘Asian’ by victims.”
But, she said, councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem which they hoped would go away and “several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist”.
She said: “Others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
The spotlight first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men, described by a judge as “sexual predators”, were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.
Adil Hussain, Razwan Razaq, Mohsin Khan, Umar Razaq, and Zafran Ramzan were jailed for grooming girls as young as 13. The men, all British-born Pakistanis, attacked girls in play areas, parks and their cars.
The prosecution was the first of a series of high-profile cases in the last four years that have revealed the exploitation of young girls in towns and cities including Rochdale, Derby and Oxford.
Following the 2010 case, there were reports that details from 200 restricted-access documents showed how police and child-protection agencies in the South Yorkshire town had extensive knowledge of these activities for a decade, yet a string of offences went unprosecuted.
Last year, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright said there had been “a failure of management’’ at South Yorkshire Police.
Prof Jay concluded in her report: “No-one knows the true scale of the child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years. Our conservative estimate is that approximately 1,400 children were sexually exploited over the full inquiry period, from 1997 to 2013.”
Prof Jay said it was not for her to determine what disciplinary action should follow.
Last night, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “The failings of local agencies exposed by this inquiry are appalling. We are determined lessons of past failures must be learned and that those who have exploited these children are brought to justice.”
Rotherham Council, which commissioned the report, said it accepted its findings, including the statement that failures “almost without exception” were those of senior managers in child protection, elected councillors and senior police officers.
It accepted that failures were not down to “frontline social or youth workers who are acknowledged in the report as repeatedly raising serious concerns about the nature and extent of this kind of child abuse”.
Mr Kimber said: “The report does not make comfortable reading in its account of the horrific experiences of some young people in the past and I would like to reiterate our sincere apology to those who were let down when they needed help.
“The council and its partners could and should have done more to protect young people from one of the most horrific forms of abuse imaginable.”
John Cameron, head of NSPCC helpline, said: “This report is truly damning and highlights consistent failures to protect children from sexual abuse at the hands of predatory groups of men.
“It appears there was, at a senior level, a collective blindness over many years to the suffering of children who endured almost incomprehensible levels of violence and intimidation. Many of these children were already extremely vulnerable and the manner in which they were let down is appalling.”
Adam Pemberton, from Victim Support, said: “Almost as shocking as the abuse is the abject failure of social services to protect these children.”