The police force at the centre of the Rotherham abuse scandal secured a charge for just one in 34 crimes linked to child sexual exploitation last year.

South Yorkshire police made 16 charges from 540 crimes that its officers had flagged as related to children being exploited for sex, according to records disclosed in freedom of information act requests.

The findings come after an investigation by The Times a decade ago revealed hundreds of young girls had been exploited in northern towns by predominantly Asian criminal gangs.

In 2014 a subsequent independent inquiry found that between 1997 and 2013 more than 1,400 children in Rotherham were exposed to severe levels of violence and sexual abuse by groups of men.

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham who has campaigned for grooming victims, said she feared child abusers in the area were getting away with offences.

“The low charge rate staggers me. My concern is that known perpetrators are slipping through the net. We need absolutely zero tolerance for this crime,” she said.

Last week The Times revealed that police and social services have been accused of failing thousands of girls as young as 11 who have been reported missing repeatedly while at risk of sexual abuse.

One child known to be at risk of abuse has disappeared 197 times in three years and internal police reports included the finding that there is “little evidence of the exploiters being investigated”.

Reporters approached all UK territorial police forces asking for the number of crimes their officers had flagged as being linked to child sexual exploitation (CSE) and whether anyone had been charged with these crimes.

While CSE is not a chargeable offence in itself, these flags are used in police crime-recording systems to track offences that are linked to individuals or gangs who use imbalances of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive children into sexual activity.

Sarah Champion said there should be zero tolerance for this type of crime

Sarah Champion said there should be zero tolerance for this type of crime —by VICTOR DE JESUS FOR THE TIMES

In 34 forces that provided information, an average of one in 14 reported crimes that were flagged as being related to CSE resulted in a charge or summons.

In the last recorded financial year, South Yorkshire police charged one suspect out of every 34 crimes with a CSE flag.

The force said that no suspect was identified in 169 of the 540 crimes the figures related to and in 75 cases the victim did not support a prosecution. A further 170 of the cases were still being investigated by the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood, an investigation led by the National Crime Agency into CSE offences in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Kent police had the worst charge rate for offences linked to CSE, with just one in 40 leading to a charge.

The Metropolitan Police, Britain’s biggest police force, charged a suspect in one in 23 of the cases. Internal force intelligence documents also showed that for child sexual offences, incidents in which a victim declined to co-operate with police to support a prosecution were five times the national average for rape investigations.

The documents also revealed that partners such as charities had expressed frustrations that the force’s threshold for investigating CSE offences was too high.

Another of Britain’s largest forces, West Midlands police, disclosed that one in 28 offences linked to CSE resulted in a charge.

The Home Office said proposed legal changes would help to target offenders and that it is publishing an updated child exploitation disruption toolkit to help the police and local agencies prevent abuse.

Police forces said CSE was a priority and that they had dedicated teams working to protect victims and prosecute offenders, resulting in many being imprisoned for up to 18 years.

South Yorkshire police said: “We will actively continue to investigate all CSE reports and take any action possible to prosecute and disrupt the perpetrators who commit these despicable acts.”

Kent police said its officers were encouraged to flag concerns about CSE proactively, resulting in high numbers of reports. Andrew Pritchard, detective chief superintendent, said charges were not always the most appropriate action. “Kent police is not a target-driven force and we instead focus on meeting the needs of the victim to ensure they are safeguarded and have access to support,” he said.

The Met said it had dedicated teams targeting offenders every day and that it monitored its recording and flagging process to ensure accuracy of performance.

West Midlands police said CSE markers can be added to cases where a crime suspect has been linked to a CSE investigation in the past, and that this could inflate the number of offences reported as sexual crimes. Superintendent Sean Phillips said: “We continually review and improve our crime recording to ensure all victims are supported even in cases where there’s no realistic prospect of a prosecution.”

Missing children Day 2

Sam was nine when a neighbour sexually abused him. His mother, Janine, called the police when she first had suspicions about the older man but no immediate action was taken.

Officers told her the suspect was on the sex offenders register but then made her sign a non-disclosure agreement. Six months later Sam made further allegations and the man has since been jailed for crimes related to the abuse.

Janine, who lives in the Midlands, said she suspected the man after he took an interest in Sam, including giving him a Manchester United flag as a gift, and then a friend of hers saw them together in a car.

“Someone I knew saw him sat on the man’s knee, pretending to drive his car, with his hand up the back of my son’s shirt. [The car] was parked tucked away behind the houses. She told me, that’s a bit weird, is that his uncle or something?”

The police interviewed the man under caution. However, officers told Janine there was not enough evidence to prosecute and that he had said he was just tickling the boy.

Janine feels let down by the authorities: “You just think that the police will turn up and arrest someone. That is not the case.”

Janine feels let down by the authorities: “You just think that the police will turn up and arrest someone. That is not the case.”

“I was mad that he was just allowed to stay there living over the road. Just tickling? He’s a grown man. How was he able to get away with that?”

She reacted angrily when some officers suggested she should try to carry on as normal. “Two of the older detectives, they came across as if to say, don’t worry about it, just get on with your life. I lost it a bit with them,” she said.

Janine fought to know more about the man under Sarah’s Law, which allows parents to be told information about the sexual offence history of a person who has come into close contact with their child, but the police resisted for months.

Eventually she was told that he was on the sex offenders register, but to find this out she was made to sign a non-disclosure agreement by the police. The force involved said this was national policy.

“There were all these children on the street and I wasn’t able to tell any of the other parents that their children were at risk,” she said.

Six months later, while watching an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show with her son that featured a case of child sexual abuse, Sam told her: “Mum, that’s happened to me.”

At this point the police swung into action and the man was charged. After six months of support from Safe and Sound, a charity, Sam disclosed that he had been raped by the man.

It then took 18 months for the case to get to court. In the interim Sam had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and tried to take his own life.

“You just think the police will turn up and arrest this person and they will be sent to jail,” Janine said. “That is not the case at all. You think if someone has done something this bad that they’re going to get prosecuted for it.”

Janine spent months preparing for court with her son. He was due to appear via video link before the jury to disclose the extent of his abuse.

However, on the day the trial was due to begin the abuser admitted lesser offences.

Instead of prosecuting him for the full extent of his alleged crimes, the Crown Prosecution Service accepted a guilty plea because it meant the abuser would get some jail time and Sam wouldn’t have to give evidence.

“I was fuming. I had gone through 18 months of hell with my son, going through everything that he had gone through, for this abuser to turn round on the day and plead guilty to this, this, and this. How dare he? How dare he get away with that?”

*The names have been changed


DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.