South Yorkshire Police (SYP) admitted “we got it wrong and we let victims down” after the report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) concluded the force “failed to protect vulnerable children”.
A total of 47 current and former officers were investigated by the IOPC after it was revealed at least 1,400 girls were abused, trafficked and groomed in the town between 1997 and 2013.
But the final report confirmed that no officer lost their job despite 265 separate allegations by more than 50 complainants.
The IOPC’s investigation catalogued how teenagers were seen as “consenting” to their abuse by officers, who were told to prioritise other crimes.
It detailed how one parent concerned about a missing daughter said they were told by an officer “it was a ‘fashion accessory’ for girls in Rotherham to have an ‘older Asian boyfriend’ and that she would grow out of it”.
IOPC director-general Michael Lockwood said in the report: “We found that officers were not fully aware, or able to deal with, Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation offences and showed insufficient empathy towards survivors who were vulnerable children and young people.
“We saw examples of SYP seeing children, and young people, as ‘consenting’ to their exploitation, and a police culture that did not always recognise survivors as victims, or understand that, often, neither did those being groomed or abused.”
The report criticised the force for prioritising other crimes, such as burglary and vehicle crime, at the expense of CSE and it found “little evidence that SYP’s leadership identified, and acted on, emerging concerns about (CSE)”.
IOPC director of major investigations Steve Noonan said: “Our report shows how SYP failed to protect vulnerable children and young people.
“Like other agencies in Rotherham at that time, it was simply not equipped to deal with the abuse and organised grooming of young girls on the scale we encountered.”
Mr Noonan praised the survivors of CSE in Rotherham who came forward to help his investigators conduct the biggest inquiry the watchdog has undertaken apart from the Hillsborough disaster probe.
He said 51 people made complaints, including 44 survivors, involving 265 separate allegations.
Of the 47 officers investigated, eight were found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
Five of these officers received sanctions ranging from management action up to a final written warning. Another faced a South Yorkshire Police misconduct hearing earlier this year, and the case was found not proven by an independent panel.
In many cases, officers had retired and could not face disciplinary proceedings, the IOPC said. Only two cases reached the point of a public adjudication hearing.
South Yorkshire’s PCC Alan Billings said: “I am disappointed that after eight years of very costly investigations, this report fails to make any significant recommendations over and above what South Yorkshire Police have already accepted and implemented from previous investigations some years ago.
“As a result, it lets down victims and survivors.”
Mr Billings said: “A great deal of time and money has been spent for few new findings or accountability.”
South Yorkshire’s deputy chief constable Tim Forber said: "The brave accounts of these girls caused a seismic change in policing crimes of this nature for South Yorkshire Police and the wider police service. Whilst I am confident we are a very different force today, I will not lose sight of the fact that we got it wrong and we let victims down.”
David Greenwood, a solicitor representing 80 Rotherham CSE survivors said: “It shows the British public the level of disregard shown by South Yorkshire Police to female victims of sexual exploitation, it explains that even by the pathetically low standards of the police service it was ‘okay’ to not investigate these crimes properly or at all, and it will demonstrate how the system of police complaints has provided zero accountability and needs reform.”