Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from South Yorkshire Police [LCG 18]


Home Affairs Select Committee Tuesday 16 October 2012—South Yorkshire Police Questions on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) [HC 622-i]1

Following my appearance before the Committee, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address, in more detail, the concerns raised by members.

The Committee posed a number of questions and, to assist my response, I will summarise the key themes:

Why so few prosecutions in South Yorkshire, particularly when compared to other forces?

Co-location with other agencies to improve prosecution rate?

Whether the ethnic origin of the offender is a factor in the police decision not to prosecute?

Co-location with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)?

During this response, I propose to address each of the questions raised and then provide you with the current position as to how South Yorkshire Police is presently tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

Committee Questions

Why so few prosecutions in South Yorkshire, particularly when compared to other forces?

Firstly, it is important to state that The Times reporting, although not inaccurate, does not represent a full picture of the situation in South Yorkshire, and Rotherham in particular. In terms of prosecutions, CSE can encompass offences such as rape, sexual assault, taking of indecent images etc. In common with other forces, we deal with offences committed against children on a frequent basis and our prosecution rates are comparable with other forces. In 2011, when looking at the number of sexual offences committed against children (16 years and under) where the offender was an adult, 76 detected offences were recorded (a detection rate of 33.3%). This is not significantly different from the picture nationally.

The South Yorkshire prosecutions quoted in The Times, relate specifically to the phenomenon of multiple offenders, multiple victims and organised ‘grooming’ type offences that, thankfully, are much rarer. There have been very few convictions nationally for this type of offence, with Derby, Rochdale and Rotherham being notable exceptions.

Over the last 10 years, South Yorkshire Police has conducted 27 separate investigations into suspected organised ‘grooming’ type CSE. In total, these investigations revealed 90 linked children, though not all were victims, and led to the arrest of 65 suspected offenders. Of these, 20 were ultimately charged with offences, including rape, 14 others remain on police bail and of the remaining 31 that were not proceeded against; one was a police decision, whilst the remaining were CPS decisions, amongst which was an investigation that was referred to the Director of Public Prosecution for decision. These figures are more accurate than those estimated in our 2010 intelligence assessment and quoted by the committee.

The police, along with other local services, have a duty to protect the vulnerable, especially children, and it is important to acknowledge that prosecution is only one outcome of this on-going duty. Because of joint efforts between South Yorkshire Police and other local services. many children have received intense multi-agency engagement and have been removed from risk. Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster have dedicated multi-agency teams specialising in CSE prevention and protection. Early identification and intervention has often reduced or removed the risk before any harm or offences have occurred. Conversely, where offences are suspected, early action may frustrate the investigation process, but this is a secondary consideration to the welfare and safety of the child concerned.

During the appearance at the HASC, members referred to:

(i) Thousands of offences and hundreds of victims involved in CSE in South Yorkshire.

The South Yorkshire Police 2010 intelligence assessment is an internal confidential document that was developed to share with partners to gain a better understanding of CSE and improve our approach. It should be borne in mind that this document was based upon estimates and professional opinions. These estimates were based on a typology of risk factors, which was an attempt to identify the number of children who could be at risk and, as a consequence, the scale of potential offending. Our investigations since 2010 have been based on this “worst case scenario” but, whilst the full picture is still unknown, our findings have not yet revealed a problem anywhere near the number feared. What we have found is that not every child who displays this risk factor actually goes on to become a victim. It is unfortunate that this was then used to portray South Yorkshire Police in a negative light, when, in fact, the document is an example of proactive work by the Force.

(ii) A specific case involving three members of one family linked to 61 girls, 13 of whom had been raped, sexually assaulted or threatened by members of that family.

The two specific cases described by The Times and made reference to by the Committee are also misleading in that they are based on the understanding of others and not based on fact. The information relating to the “three family members” was from local authority information and relates to three brothers from the same family. In fact, there were five brothers, three of whom were all under the age of 16 at the time. The information provided did not specify which three of the five brothers were linked to the 61 girls. Of the thirteen cases highlighted, only one is directly linked to the brothers. This case was investigated but there was insufficient evidence to progress a prosecution. This male was himself under 16 at the time and was referred to social care as a result of his sexualised behaviour.

(iii) An incident where a 12-year-old girl was found in a car with an adult male member of that family, alcohol was present and the man had indecent images of the girl on his phone.

In the case of the 12-year-old girl and 22-year-old male, (a member of the family described above) arrested in a suspected stolen car, alcohol was found in the vehicle but neither person was under the influence of alcohol. The man was in possession of a mobile phone, which was found to have footage on it of a “scantily clad” adult female dancing. The footage was not indecent (by the legal definition) and was of such poor quality that the woman was never identified. There were no images of the 12-year-old girl on the phone. The girl made no disclosures of impropriety to the police, either at the time or subsequently, in relation to the male driver. In the absence of other evidence, no prosecutions resulted.

The circumstances though were clearly of concern. Intelligence work continued in relation to the male and the girl was engaged with to gain her trust over a period of time. She subsequently made a number of unconnected disclosures to the police that were the subject of a criminal investigation into CSE. This investigation identified other victims and, at its conclusion, five men were convicted of a number offences, including rape, and were sentenced to 32~ years imprisonment. This prosecution was reported by The Times but not linked to the “girl in the car” incident.

Co-location with other agencies to improve prosecution rate?

We operate this multi-agency co-location model across the Force in three of our local authority areas and advanced plans are in place to co-locate with the final local authority area of Barnsley. The staff involved are from the police, local authority and voluntary sector. We also work closely with colleagues from the health authority and our co-located service offers specialist ‘family support’, in addition to that normally only offered by national voluntary organisations. Far from being slow in taking this step and seeing the benefits, South Yorkshire has been influential in identifying good practice. For example, the 2009 guidance document produced by the Department for Children Schools and Families ‘Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation’ cites Sheffield as national good practice for the work of its Safeguarding Children Boards and Sexual Exploitation Service (p56).

More recently. the 2012 Ofsted Inspection, which graded Rotherham Local Authority Children’s Services as outstanding, recognised that “Good collaboration working between Police and Local Authority has resulted in a targeted and successful approach to tackling child sexual exploitation, which is further strengthened by a commitment to creating a team of qualified social workers based within the Police Protection Unit”.

Whether the ethnic origin of the offender is a factor in the police decision not to prosecute?

The majority of suspects in the 27 suspected South Yorkshire investigations mentioned above, were described as “Asian” or “Pakistani British”. This had no influence on the investigations carried out. In light of The Times reporting, we have commenced a review of all 27 investigations. This process is being led by a senior detective and is specifically focussed on wider investigative links, those suspects not previously arrested and revisiting CPS decisions regarding those not proceeded against. We have also requested further information from partners, to identify if there are new lines of enquiry that can be followed up. Any new information will be pursued vigorously.

Co-location with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)?

To address the committees’ final question, the Crown Prosecution Service ceased co-location a number of years ago under a national CPS re-structure. We do, however, retain good access to specialist lawyers and positive working relationships, including early consultation to achieve and capture best evidence to support prosecutions.

Current Situation

Since our 2010 intelligence report, we have also taken the following positive steps to improve our response to the problem of CSE:

CSE is now part of the force Control Strategy, giving focus and driving operational activity.

A Force Strategic Lead on CSE has been appointed.

Delivered awareness training to all front line staff and enhanced training to detectives and specialists.

79 officers working specifically in child abuse related investigations incorporating CSE, eight exclusively dedicated to CSE work.

Improved multi-agency working structures, including co-located police and partner agency teams.

Proactive use of other intervention/disruption measures where prosecution is not achievable.

South Yorkshire is one of the few forces nationally to recognise and map the link between CSE and Organised Crime Groups.

A new “missing person” IT system has been introduced and this underpins CSE risk factors.

The Force has membership of and actively contributes in the CSE National Working Group.

Through our CSE lead, Local Safeguarding Children Boards and Force Public Protection Board, we also have the following work ongoing:

A restructure of the four local Public Protection Units under a central management structure. This will retain the benefits of co-location with partners, bring a consistency of approach, allow good practice to be shared more easily, and support victims in a more structured way.

Benchmarking with other leading practitioners, including the feasibility of victimless prosecutions.

Establishing a disruption “toolkit” based on that used by Lancashire Police, to ensure that we utilise disruption tactics, including other non-CSE legislation available.

Introducing a performance framework.

A greater consistency in all ‘missing from home’ return interviews focussing on CSE risk factors.

A renewed focus on prosecution and disruption.

Establishing a county-wide CSE Sub Group to the four Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

Ensuring that the Force is compliant in all areas of the imminently released ACPO CSE Action Plan.

Ensuring that the latest education material around CSE is provided to front line officers and our partners, an example being the recently released Child Exploitation Online Protection (CEOP) video utilising a storyline from the TV programme, Eastenders.

Wider Context

Our experiences and developments over the last few years would suggest that more can be done to understand and tackle the problem of CSE nationally and I would summarise the key steps as:

A greater recognition across the criminal justice system of CSE.

Consideration could be given to strengthening the Sexual Offences Act 2003 around sexualised conversations, to cater for the advances of modern technology.

A national database for the sharing of CSE information and intelligence. Linked to this would be better recording by police forces so CSE data is consistently recorded and searchable to allow meaningful comparison.

Better provision of safe accommodation for victims of CSE, where relocation is necessary for their protection.

In conclusion, I hope that this response allows the Committee to gain a more informed understanding of the background and current position in South Yorkshire. I strongly believe that we have much to contribute to the national debate and I look forward to sharing our experiences with others to safeguard children within our communities.

David Crompton, Chief Constable
South Yorkshire Police

November 2012

1 Committee Note: The oral evidence session was entitled ‘Hillsborough Independent Panel Report’. The Committee asked several questions during that session regarding localised child grooming. This letter is a response to those particular questions.

Prepared 29th January 2014