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South Yorkshire still has lessons to learn from Rotherham, says IOPC

The IOPC said it is “deeply concerned” that problems still exist around South Yorkshire Police's response to child sexual exploitation

The report released today (23 November) said while progress in understanding child sexual exploitation had been made a number of areas still needed improvement.

It was published as part of Operation Linden, the IOPC investigation into the police response to non-recent child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the Rotherham area.

It said HMIC inspectors “remain worried” that, despite multiple reports and recommendations, there are still areas of concern at South Yorkshire Police and said there had been a “deterioration” since improvements made in 2015/16.

The report said one key finding of its investigations was that the issues around CSE were not recognised quickly enough and officers were not equipped with the skills or experience they needed to deal with the problems they were faced with. 

It recommended a national multi-agency approach to identify the major issues for policing.

Officers and staff without the right skills or training were often expected to lead on CSE investigations, the IOPC said. It recommended that South Yorkshire Police ensured training was up-to-date.

A 2020 re-inspection by HMIC of the force's crime data integrity found “significant” under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children reported to South Yorkshire Police’s public protection department and said the force should take steps to ensure it is complying with Home Office rules around crime recording.

It has made 12 national and local recommendations to tackle systemic issues identified and help improve the treatment of those who come forward to report abuse.

It recommends the voices and experiences of survivors should be included in training sessions by the College of Policing and said: “Listening to and understanding survivor experiences can be a powerful way to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation-related issues in training sessions and develop empathy.”

Investigations also highlighted how victims regularly complaining they had not been kept updated.

Op Linden, which began in 2014 after the Jay Report concluded that more than 1,400 children were targeted in the town, has involved 91 separate investigations and is the second largest operation carried out by the IOPC after Hillsborough, investigating complaints by 51 people into 256 separate allegations between 1997 and 2013.

The last investigation concluded in 2020 and the full report is expected to be published next year, after the conclusion of the final police misconduct hearing.

IOPC Director of Major Investigations, Steve Noonan said: “Police understanding of this type of offending has evolved significantly in recent years and we must acknowledge the efforts made to improve the way these cases are dealt with.  However, there is still work to do and we have issued these recommendations to make sure lessons are learned and mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

Mr Noonan added: “Survivors of abuse will no doubt be deeply concerned, as are we, that some of these problems still exist today and we urge the police to act on these recommendations urgently to provide much needed reassurance to the public.

“It is a tragedy that so many of the survivors we spoke to now have criminal records as a result of their actions while being exploited and there must be action across the judicial system to protect vulnerable young people and safeguard their futures.”

He added: “There is still work to do and we have issued these recommendations to make sure lessons are learned and mistakes of the past are not repeated.”

Five officers out of 47 investigated during Operation Linden have faced sanctions over their conduct – from management action to a final written warning.

One hearing is still outstanding.

Most of the officers had retired and due to legislation in place at the time, could not face disciplinary proceedings.

South Yorkshire's Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber said: “Since the Alexis Jay Report in 2014, South Yorkshire Police has developed a far deeper and more meaningful understanding of child sexual exploitation. Those who bravely spoke out about the harm they suffered shone a light on our failings and became a catalyst for change, change which continues today.

“This is a journey of continuous improvement. There will always be more to do and we have a determined focus on this complex area of crime. We continue to work closely with our partners within Rotherham and specialists in this area of work to support this development.

“CSE remains an issue both in Rotherham and across the country. There will always be people who want to cause harm to children but our commitment remains firm. We are improving all of the time in spotting the early signs, preventing and detecting crimes, and, most importantly, safeguarding those at risk.”

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