Rotherham child sex abuse 'stretches back twenty years'

By Reshma Rumsey, ITV News

For the victims this trial has been a long time coming.

The abuse goes back more than two decades and could have been stopped much earlier.

In 2013 Professor Alexis Jay carried out an independent report looking at the number of children who were sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997-2013 and concluded that more than 1400 children including girls as young as 11 were sexually exploited by gangs of men predominately of Pakistani origin.

A third of the victims were already known to social services

Her report found there had been collective failures by police, social services and the council.

Many surrounding the case think the abuse could've been stopped years ago.

It was known that children under the care of the local authority were at risk of being targeted in the early to mid 90's.

Risky Business, a charity set up for young people (aged between 11-25) in the area, raised concerns about young, vulnerable girls being targeted for prostitution and sexual exploitation and in particular girls in care in the late 90's.

In the early part of the 2000's professionals were engaging with vulnerable young people but they did not have the proper support or resource and senior figures in the council and police thought the problem was being exaggerated.

Six will be sentenced on Friday for a range of offences involving the sexual exploitation of teenage girls in the South Yorkshire town.

Dr Angie Heal, a drugs analyst, was commissioned in 2003 by the council to look into the drugs problem in the area. During her investigation she saw evidence of a much bigger problem with child sexual exploitation and grooming.

She raised her concerns in her report and again in a report three years later claiming the problem had grown and was continuing.

Dr Angie Heal told ITV News recently that the findings in her report "couldn't have been any more obvious".

She said the information was being widely circulated on police intelligence lists and even council staff who didn't work in children's services knew what was going on.

"It should have been stopped earlier, and I think it could have been if they'd done proper investigations.

No action was taken.

The council set up a CSE panel and revised its procedures in 2003 .

In 2007 Risky Business received several referrals relating to young people under the age of 18, and some who were in care.

A year later Operation Central was set up to investigate child sexual exploitation in the area.

But in 2009 Ofsted found that Rotherham's children's services was inadequate.

It was not until 2010 a child sexual exploitation sub-group was set up by the local safeguarding board .

Shaun Wright faced weeks of pressure before resigning. Credit: PA

South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright announced three reviews of child sexual abuse in 2013.

Also several women came forward to sue the council for failing to in their duty of care to them.

Following the publication of the Alex Jay report, Shaun Wright resigned as did the head of children's services Joyce Thacker.

Wright was responsible for children's services during five of the 15 years in which the abuse of at least 1,400 children is said to have taken place in the town.

In February last year the leader of the council and his cabinet resigned after yet another critical report which claimed it was not fit for purpose.

Five government-appointed commissioners are now overseeing the running of Rotherham council.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) is now investigating outstanding allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission says it is investigating complaints against 42 South Yorkshire Police officers over the handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

157 reports concerning child sexual exploitation made to police in 2013

10 prosecutions were made between 2013 and April 2014

Source: Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, by Alexis Jay