Sat. Jun 15th, 2024
alert-–-how-child-sex-grooming-gangs-still-cast-a-shadow-over-rotherham:-locals-warn-abusers-are-continuing-to-prey-on-youngsters-more-than-12-years-after-scandal-was-exposed.-so-why,-campaigners-ask,-is-more-not-being-done-to-stop-it?Alert – How child sex grooming gangs STILL cast a shadow over Rotherham: Locals warn abusers are continuing to prey on youngsters more than 12 years after scandal was exposed. So why, campaigners ask, is more not being done to stop it?

Child sex abusers are continuing to prey on youngsters in Rotherham more than 12 years after the grooming gang scandal was first exposed, locals have claimed.

Although another seven men were this week found guilty of a horrific catalogue of multiple rapes and sexual assaults, many more trials are in the pipeline – casting a continued shadow over the area.

And local people, including victims, say they believe criminals are still grooming and abusing the young – this time involving gangs from a swathe of ethnicities rather than just groups of mainly Pakistani Muslim men.

The latest prosecution follows a five-year investigation by officers from the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood, the UK’s biggest investigation into child abuse.

A spokesman told the Daily Mail: ‘Our caseload so far involves over 200 arrests out of 300 suspects, and 1,150 victims. So far, there have been 33 convictions after 15 trials but there are further trials due to start and we have more than 50 live investigations.’ 

Stovewood was set up in the wake of the Jay Report, which sent a shockwave across the nation in 2014 when it found that at least 1,400 girls were abused, trafficked and groomed by gangs of men of mainly Pakistani heritage in the town between 1997 and 2013.

The report by Professor Alexis Jay – now chairing the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – prompted a swathe of resignations and further inquiries from public bodies after it emerged how police, social workers and other agencies had done little to tackle the issue.

But while Stovewood has been welcomed, there is concern about it only investigating historic grooming.

Locals say they have received no information about when any prosecutions for more recent allegations of grooming – investigated by South Yorkshire Police – will reach the courts.

And Rotherham abuse survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse, who was just 14 when she was raped and became pregnant, said progress on changes to help victims has stalled.

She said: ‘We’re never going to be able to stop exploitation but that doesn’t mean the authorities can’t be determined to stop it. Mountains should be moved in terms of changing the way things operate but this isn’t happening.

‘People are still more bothered about protecting their reputations and there is still no legal definition of a victim of child exploitation, which would help enable cases to be recognised.

‘The sentencings need to be higher. Rape carries a maximum term of life – why is it not being given out more often?

‘Children who are being exploited by grooming gangs are still being criminalised rather than recognised as victims – and there’s not one support service in this country for a child born of sexual violence.’

The legacy of what Ms Woodhouse, now 38, went through more than two decades ago has continued to affect her life.

Her rapist, Arshid Hussain, who was one of three brothers who groomed and abused over 50 girls, was jailed for 35 years in 2016.

But the following year, it emerged Rotherham Council had contacted Hussain about the boy Ms Woodhouse had given birth to after being raped.

The authority promised to keep him informed about future proceedings, after he was listed as a ‘respondent’ in a Family Court case.

In response, Ms Woodhouse set up a petition backed by 20,000 people and Rotherham MP Sarah Champion for a change in the law to prevent men with a child conceived by rape from access or involvement with them.

Speaking at the time, she said: ‘We’re constantly being re-victimised and as a rape victim I’m constantly told ‘well actually, he’s got his human rights’.

‘What about my human rights? What about other people’s human rights and our children and our right to constantly have to keep our children safe?’

And she is still battling to have a historic criminal conviction for an assault after she got into a fight while being groomed erased from her record.

She also said there isn’t sufficient focus by the authorities on criminal gangs’ grooming of boys who are lured into joining their activities and becoming abusers themselves.

Lack of resources is one issue, she said. ‘There’s not enough police officers to deal with the crime that’s going on. You report an incident and can’t get a call back.

The men, found guilty last Wednesday after a nine-week trial at Sheffield Crown Court and who will be sentenced in September, are: 

Mohammed Amar, 42, of Elizabeth Way, Rotherham, who was found guilty of two counts of indecently assaulting an 11-year-old girl.

Yasser Ajaibe, 39, of Walter Street, Rotherham, who was found guilty of indecently assaulting an 11-year-old girl.

Mohammed Zameer Sadiq, 49, of Richard Road, Rotherham, who was found guilty of rape and sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 years old.

Mohammed Siyab, 44, of Stevenson Drive, Rotherham, was found guilty of two counts of rape, sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 years and trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation.

Abid Saddiq, 43, formerly of Rotherham, was found guilty of three counts of rape, including one of girl under 13, and indecently assaulting of a 12-year-old girl.

Tahir Yasin, 38, of Burngreave Street, Sheffield, was found guilty of eight counts of rape.

Ramin Bari, 37, of Derby Street, Sheffield, was found guilty of four counts of rape.

‘I’ve taken to reporting things via posts on social media and it tends to be more effective at getting a response because it’s then in the public domain and they don’t want to be seen to be doing nothing.’

Ms Woodhouse said that while the ‘dynamics are changing’ about who is involved in Rotherham’s criminal gangs, who she said are continuing to abuse youngsters, the authorities remain uncomfortable to talk about the ethnic backgrounds of those involved.

‘We are still not allowed to say the majority of perpetrators were Pakistani Muslim men without being branded racist or Islamophobic. But without recognising who is involved you can’t talk about it properly.

She urged for there to be a ‘national conversation’ about grooming gangs ‘in every town and every city’.

‘Don’t think it’s just Rotherham or Telford or Rochdale. It’s happening absolutely everywhere. If we want to expose the full scale of the problem, you’d have to have an inquiry in every town and city’, she added.

Another victim, ‘Elizabeth’, who was groomed and abused as a teenager, said: ‘As much as the NCA are doing an incredible job with the prosecutions, I don’t think there have been enough convictions and, secondly, I think Rotherham is thinking it’s all gone away. It hasn’t – it’s just covered up more.

‘The 33 convictions are not touching the half of it. Until we’ve dealt with the past, how can we deal with the future?

‘We need to see a strategy, plans in place for how the authorities are going to prevent it happening again. There needs to be more awareness among the general public about what to look out for.

‘The police say they haven’t the resources and haven’t enough funding but other public bodies could be taking action, such as housing officers making spot-checks on properties, which could disrupt what’s going on.’

Elizabeth, now in her 30s and still affected psychologically by the ordeal she went through, added: ‘It’s heartbreaking that while people like myself and the other campaigners keep on shouting, some people haven’t a voice.

‘South Yorkshire Police say they are in a better position than a few years ago but I’m not sure they are capable of dealing with the problem. We haven’t heard anything of their continuing investigations into more recent abuse.’

Her father, who also did not wish to be named, said: ‘The grooming is still going on – it seems worse than before. They are still using the same hotspots. The Asian men are still around but there are a lot of other gangs involved now, including from Eastern Europe.

‘The perpetrators are not getting long-enough sentences and there is a lack of support for victims.

‘My daughter’s abuser received two nine-year sentences but they ran concurrently and he was released after 4 ½ years. Every one of these types of convictions should carry a life sentence.

‘He’s just been recalled to prison after he breached conditions which include not being allowed within five miles of my daughter. He was spotted within a mile of where she now lives.

‘Given the number of cases still to come to court and the delays with dealing with the prosecutions, this could still affect the town for the next 20 years.’

There is still despondency in the town centre – which retains some of the grand architecture from its prosperous industrial past but is these days all but abandoned by chain stores and is now a mix of surviving independent shops plus takeaways, barbers and tattoo studies.

Few people on its streets are comfortable discussing the issue of grooming gangs openly.

One local said: ‘It is definitely still casting a shadow and people are obviously uncomfortable about what has happened.

‘With the trials still going on, it will be a few years before we can begin to put this behind us but the authorities definitely need to learn lessons in terms of how they treat vulnerable young women in the future.’

‘Ghost’, a tattooist based in the town centre who did not wish to give her name, said: ‘I don’t think the issue is being handled adequately at all.

‘It’s still happening, at Clifton Park where you see these girls and people come along in cars picking them up.

‘It’s perpetrators of all backgrounds, all kinds of ethnicities who we are seeing now, not only British Asian men.

‘There’s better lighting and CCTV around Clifton Park but you only see police around there if there’s been an event on… other than that, nothing.’

Ghost added that she has tried to persuade the council to crack down on rogue tattooists, who ink under-18s in breach of the law and who, she believes, are in some cases using the shops and the new fashion for body art, to lure in and groom victims.

She said: ‘Our industry is not regulated. People can open tattoo parlours without a disclosure and barring service check or any inspection – but as far as I know, we only have two environmental health officers to deal with the whole of Rotherham.

‘I’ve been banging on at the council about the need for proper regulation and inspections.

‘It’s appalling. Tattoo parlours are the latest places which are being used by people to groom children, because tattoos are popular and seen as cool, so youngsters are attracted there.’

Sarah Champion, Rotherham’s Labour MP since 2012 and who has previously spoken vociferously in support of grooming victims, said: ‘The British Asian model of gangs has been broken up but other gangs are stepping up and are using the same model.

‘We would be deluding ourselves if we don’t think this is going on across the country. We need to do all we can to protect children.

‘In Rotherham, as in other places, the same people who exploit the children are those who run the black market, trading guns and drugs. There have been a lot of cannabis farms raided by the police which are farmed using slave labour.’

She said she had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the government to add a definition of child exploitation to the recent Victims Bill – which would make it easier for authorities to take action against abuse.

And Ms Champion said progress of the NCA’s Operation Stovewood – set up to cover the crimes committed during the period considered by Prof Jay’s report – has been slowed due to the complexity of the resulting trials and the need for specialist prosecutors and judges.

‘It isn’t that nothing’s happening. There’s an issue of court space for trials with multiple defendants lasting several weeks. They also need to be dealt with by specialist barristers and judges,’ she added.

‘On top of that, there are ongoing cases post-2013 which are being investigated by South Yorkshire Police.’

Ms Champion, standing again next month in her safe seat, said it is not only the continued fight against child sex grooming gangs giving her ‘sleepless nights’ – with online grooming now posing a terrible danger.

‘We’re now seeing peer-on-peer sexual abuse and exploitation, with pressure to provide indecent images which are then exploited for gain by adults who use the pictures.

‘There’s not anywhere near the resources needed to get close to stopping the online child abuse. It’s utterly endemic at the minute and is something that keeps me awake at night.’

Rotherham Council, which was placed in special measures between 2015 and 2017 with its functions overseen by the government in the wake of Prof Jay’s report, said it would ‘never be complacent’ about the threat posed by grooming gangs.

Nicola Curley, the council’s strategic director for children and young people’s services, said: ‘We will never be complacent about the threat from people who wish to sexually abuse children, and those people are still in our community, as they are in every community.

‘We have acknowledged that the failings at the time in Rotherham in relation to child protection were unacceptable. The council and partners continue to do all that we can to support victims of these horrific crimes.

‘Our Children’s Services have been graded as ‘Good’ consistently by Ofsted since 2017. Dedicated professionals are working tirelessly to understand the experiences of our children and to disrupt offending.

‘Ofsted found our multi-agency team responding to the threat of child sexual exploitation as ‘proactive’. In 2021, an independent review into our response to child sexual exploitation provided reassurance that Council ‘processes are not simply paper-based but active, embedded and protecting children and young people in Rotherham.’

‘Any victims of child sexual abuse are urged to come forward and report the crimes committed against them. There is support available and you are not alone.’

The council said all tattooists are inspected and registered, and that it has ‘no specific reports’ about grooming at tattoo parlours – but that it would contact ‘Ghost’ to discuss her claims.

In the latest prosecutions, seven men were convicted of raping or sexually abusing girls aged 11-16 in the early 2000, when they were groomed and often plied with alcohol or cannabis.

The NCA said the evidence ‘was some of the most harrowing we have come across’ and that the offences involved ‘some of the most serious yet investigated’ by officers on Operation Stovewood.

Officers said the girls would often be collected by their abusers from the children’s homes where they lived at the time.

The attacks took place at locations around Rotherham, including in a park, in a car in a supermarket car park, in a cemetery, and even behind a children’s nursery.

The NCA said the jury was told how one of the girls was taken to a hotel where she was raped by two men.

The same girl was also locked inside one of her abusers’ homes where she was raped on at least two occasions before escaping by climbing out of a window.

South Yorkshire Police said the force is ‘progressing thirteen investigations involving six victims’ for complaints made post Stovewood.

A spokesperson said: ‘Three men have since been interviewed and enquiries are ongoing.

‘We know that many victims and survivors report the abuse they suffered years later. We would encourage anyone who is considering reporting their abuse to the police to do so. We have dedicated teams with a wealth of experience ready to listen. It’s never too late.’

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