South Yorkshire Police today pledged to make dozens of improvements to how it deals with child grooming investigations – after a new review found opportunities to catch abusers in Rotherham had been missed.
The force has said it will implement 48 new recommendations from the National Crime Agency about the way it handles cases.
The NCA – which has been dubbed the British equivalent of the FBI – looked at three ongoing police investigations into historic abuse cases in Rotherham and Sheffield as part of its preliminary work on Operation Stovewood, its independent investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
Its review team has also said past force operations that failed to catch groomers should be independently reviewed to see if suspects can be prosecuted.
The review found while officers on current cases were ‘conscientious, enthusiastic and focused upon providing good outcomes’, opportunities to investigate suspected abusers had been ‘overlooked’ by South Yorkshire Police in the past.
Improvements recommended to the police include making more use of ‘overt and covert’ intelligence opportunities, better engagement with victims and witnesses and higher standards of record-keeping.
The recommendations have been accepted by South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton, who said improvements are already being made – but admitted more still needs to be done.
He said: “We accept these recommendations and, as the NCA have recognised, the force has already addressed many of these and put steps in place to ensure other issues are dealt with in a timely manner.”
The latest review comes after the Independent Police Complaints Commission revealed last month it was investigating more than 100 allegations against 42 past and present officers in relation to the Rotherham scandal.
The allegations being looked at by the IPCC include ‘suggestions of corrupt relationships between police officers and offenders’ and ‘failing to adequately investigate on the basis of intelligence or to deal with incidents appropriately’.
The NCA review team, led by the organisation’s deputy director André Baker, concluded: “Over the years, intelligence and investigative opportunities in relation to child sexual exploitation have been overlooked by South Yorkshire Police.
“The review team concurs with the finding’s of the Louise Casey inspectors that South Yorkshire Police did not use alternative ways to gather evidence, did not use alternative strategies to protect victims, did not make use of other tools and powers available to them and did not work effectively with the community safety or licencing arms of the council to develop strategies for tackling perpetrators.”
But it added: “The strategy of the current Gold Commander, Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee, demonstrates a professional and appropriate response at a strategic level to this critical issue.”
The review team said ‘there may be further opportunities to pursue offenders from other previous South Yorkshire Police investigations’.
It has asked for independent reviews of Operations Central, Czar and Chard.
Operation Central resulted in the conviction of five men in 2010, but the other operations failed to see any cases brought to court.
The recent Casey review of Rotherham Council described the five convictions in Operation Central as the ‘tip of the iceberg’ – with around 80 perpetrators identified.
One police officer told Casey he was told to ‘cut off’ the investigation.
South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Alan Billings has also ordered an independent inquiry into South Yorkshire Police’s handling of child sexual exploitation cases across the force area after a whistleblower claimed no action had been taken against hundreds of suspected abusers in Sheffield between 2007 and 2010.