Police believe there around 1,400 child sex abuse victims in Rotherham
At a press conference today, National Crime Agency boss called the huge extent of the rape, trafficking and grooming – mainly carried out by Asian gangs who targeted white girls and young women between 1997 and 2013 – “horrendous”.
The NCA’s senior investigating officer Steve Baldwin confirmed previous reports of around 1,400 sex abuse victims in the town were a “very good estimate”.
Speaking to press in Sheffield, Mr Baldwin said: “The abuse that has taken place in Rotherham is horrendous.
“We have gathered a huge amount of material in Operation Stovewood and this details some disturbing events.
“We will use the information as a starting point for developing intelligence and evidence.
“Given the amount of victims there are, there is potential to identify thousands of offences.”
While none of the 300 have been arrested, investigators say some may have had contact with the authorities in two previous police investigations, as many have aliases and nicknames.
Among the suspects at large are two former or serving Rotherham councillors, investigators said.
NCA’s Steve Baldwin, speaking today at the press conference in Sheffield
Because so many vulnerable children were ignored by the authorities, groomers got away with exploiting them for years
Mr Baldwin said the investigation was now prioritising those who committed the most serious offences.
He said they would not rush into making arrests, adding men involved were sometimes operating as part of organised networks.
He added: “We will progress this investigation as quickly as professionally possible but it is complex.
“Much of the information we have is not yet in a format that makes it easy to analyse.
“My priority at the moment is to ensure that we fully understand what has happened, and how, so that we can take the most effective action.
South Yorkshire Police was heavily criticised for ignoring child sex abuse victims in Rotherham
“I want to assure all victims that we will examine all allegations of abuse and, most importantly, we will listen to victims.”
Trevor Pearce, the NCA director in overall command of Operation Stovewood, said it was costing around £3million to £5m a year to run and could take a number of years to complete. Currently, 32 officers are working on the investigation, which has identified more than 3,300 lines of enquiry.
In the last week alone, the NCA received 45 new boxes of material.
Mr Pearce refused requests to comment on the South Yorkshire Police probes between 1997 and 2013, heavily criticised by the Jay Report, which ultimately saw the NCA take over and attempt to coordinate the investigations.
He said it was not the NCA’s role to investigate any alleged police misconduct but said his team was liaising with the separate Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry.
The NCA began investigating the Rotherham abuse in December following a request by South Yorkshire Police when the Jay Report attacked them for effectively ignoring the victims over more than a decade.
Speaking about the latest investigation results in Yorkshire, Karen Froggatt, director for child victims of sexual exploitation at the independent charity Victim Support said: “The scale of sexual exploitation against children in Rotherham is appalling. We know from supporting many of these victims just how devastating and long lasting an impact it has.
“Our priority is to make sure that the victims of this horrendous abuse in Rotherham, and elsewhere in the country, get the respect that they deserve and the support that they need as soon as possible.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Because so many vulnerable children were ignored by the authorities, groomers got away with exploiting them for years.
“Ensuring the cases against groomers go to trial is vital in giving sexually exploited children confidence that the justice system does work for them; that if they come forward, they will be believed and supported.”