1. ITV Report

Women sue council over sex abuse

Four women are planning to sue Rotherham Council Photo: Calendar

Four women are planning to sue Rotherham Council for "systemic failures to protect them from sexual abuse by predatory men when they were children", their lawyers have said.

South Yorkshire solicitors Switalskis said they are working on behalf of the women who want to take legal action against the council.

Rotherham has been the focus of concerns about under-age teenage girls being groomed by groups of adult men for sex.

Switalskis's announcement came as The Times published more allegations about child sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town.

The paper claimed a teenager in the care of social services was allowed extensive contact with a violent adult offender who was suspected of grooming young girls to use and sell for sex.

It said the girl first met the man in 1999 when she was 14 and he was 24.

In response to the claims, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright said he was deeply concerned.

The allegations made in today's Times newspaper about the way in which various agencies failed to adequately combat child sexual exploitation and protect vulnerable victims 14 years ago concerns me deeply.

The approach taken today is vastly improved, and as commissioner, my determination is to ensure that the approach that is now being taken by those agencies in responding to and investigating allegations of such crimes is consummately professional.

I will be seeking assurances from the chief constable and other agencies that all allegations of such crimes are thoroughly investigated, that victims are fully supported and that this process is underpinned by the most robust and thorough processes and policies.

– Shaun Wright, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner

The commissioner said extra resources had been provided to South Yorkshire Police to help combat child sexual exploitation and he noted that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary is about to review the approach to the problem being taken by all police forces.

The spotlight 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.

The prosecution was the first of a series of high-profile cases in the last three years that have revealed the exploitation of young girls in towns including Rochdale, Derby and Oxford.

Following the 2010 case, The Times claimed 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.

The allegations led to a range of official investigations, including a probe by the Home Affairs Select Committee.

South Yorkshire Police said it "deeply regrets" the publication of The Times story "about an on-going, complex and highly sensitive investigation into matters of historic child sexual exploitation".

But The Times defended its decision to publish saying it believed stories like this "will encourage others to come forward to tell police what happened to them so that successful prosecutions of their abusers will be more rather than less likely."

The police have asked us not to publish (the story) at this time for fear of prejudicing their own inquiries.

While we recognise the significant advances that have recently been made in the force's approach to tackling child sexual exploitation, we do not believe that enough has yet been done.

South Yorkshire Police has had more than a dozen years to investigate the crimes against (the girl). It is almost a year since this newspaper first highlighted the abuse inflicted upon other vulnerable girls in Rotherham by groups of offenders who were allowed to act with virtual impunity.

– The Times

David Greenwood, of Switalskis, said: "It is important to remember that at the time of the abuse they were children under the age of 16 and could not legally consent."

Referring to the Home Affairs Select Committee report, Mr Greenwood said:

The report noted part of the problem is that adults may misunderstand the grooming process and assume that the young person was a willing participant in a relationship, rather than the victim of sexual abuse.

– David Greenwood, Switalskis

A spokesman for Rotherham Council said that following Operation Yewtree - the investigation that followed revelations about Jimmy Savile - the authority asked South Yorkshire Police (SYP) to thoroughly review all historical cases that may be linked to child sexual exploitation.

He said:

That review is ongoing and continues with a number of live and ongoing investigations.

The council wishes to support SYP and not potentially compromise this process. As such we will not be making further comments on the article without further consultation with our police colleagues.

– Spokesperson for Rotherham Council

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