It was an explosive inquiry which made headlines around the globe.
The Jay Report revealed at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been victims of sexual abuse between 1997 and 2013 – with police and council bosses being aware of the problem but failing to act.
The report also revealed that child sexual exploitation ‘continues to this day’ in Rotherham.
The political storm that followed has resulted in four resignations of senior public figures implicated in the scandal – and with a series of follow-up inquiries now ordered, the focus on Rotherham’s problems shows no sign of letting up.
Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone, who had been in charge since 2003, resigned within minutes of the report being made public.
Chief executive Martin Kimber, who had been in post since late 2009, initially refused to quit and said he was ‘part of the solution’ to Rotherham’s problems.
But two weeks after the report was published, he announced he would be stepping down at the end of the year so new leadership could ‘enable the town to recover more quickly’ from the findings of the Jay report. More determined to stay in the face of fierce criticism were Joyce Thacker, director of children’s and young people’s services at the council, and Shaun Wright, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, who had been a councillor with responsibility for children’s services between 2005 and 2010.
Mr Wright maintained he was ‘the best person for the job’ despite calls from all three main party leaders for him to stand down.
Instead of quitting, he initially resigned from the Labour Party and said he would remain as an independent PCC. With no legal powers to remove him from the post, it appeared that Mr Wright would stay in his post until the end of his term in 2016.
Things came to a head when he was confronted by furious abuse victims and their families at a police and crime panel meeting in Rotherham.
They repeatedly called for him to go, as the panel also issued a vote of no confidence in him. Whilst Mr Wright repeated his intention to stay during the heated meeting, he quit just a few days later – but with no apology. He said the media focus on his role was ‘detracting from the important issue’ of the victims.
Mr Wright’s resignation has sparked a by-election for the now vacant post which is expected to cost taxpayers around £1.6m to stage at the end of this month, with four candidates in the running for the controversial post.
Joyce Thacker left her job days after Mr Wright, shortly after being signed off on sick leave. Mrs Thacker, who had been head of children’s services since 2008 and was deputy head for two years before that, was another to resist repeated calls to quit but finally left the council by ‘mutual agreement’ with immediate effect.
The Star revealed last week that she had been given a £40,000 pay-off to quit her role – a figure only made public through a Freedom of Information request after Rotherham Council initially refused to comment on what she got for leaving her £130,000-per-year job.
The publication of the report set off a chain of other inquiries and investigations being ordered.
Within a week of the publication of the report, the Labour party suspended four members with connections to Rotherham Council – former leader Roger Stone, serving councillors Gwendoline Russell and Shaukat Ali, and ex-deputy leader Jahangir Akhtar.
Mr Akhtar resigned as the council’s deputy leader and vice-chair of the police and crime panel last year after reports – which he denied – alleging he knew about a relationship between a relative and an under-age girl in care. He resumed his post after being cleared by the police of any blame but lost his seat in the May election to UKIP.
Its investigations into whether there had been any wrong-doing by its councillors are ongoing.
No-one from South Yorkshire Police, which was heavily criticised in the Jay report for treating victims with ‘contempt’, has yet been disciplined or suspended in relation to it.
But Chief Constable David Crompton has said a ‘number’ of referrals are being made to the IPCC, while Trevor Pearce, director of investigations for the National Crime Agency, is to lead an independent investigation into outstanding allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
The Government has also ordered an inspection of Rotherham Council in the wake of the report, which is expected to report back by the end of November.
Louise Casey, who heads the Government’s Troubled Families programme, is heading the inspection and has been ordered to examine whether the council is functioning properly in the areas of governance, children’s services and taxi licensing.
She will also look into whether the authority is suffering from ‘institutionalised political correctness’, covers up information or silences whistle-blowers,
Local Government secretary Eric Pickles ordered the inspection after saying the Jay report showed the council had ‘utterly failed its children’. Additionally, the Department for Education has parachuted in an expert to oversee children’s services in Rotherham for an additional three month period. Malcolm Newsam has been appointed as children’s social care commissioner in the wake of the scandal.
A report by the Home Affairs Select Committee was published last weekend after MPs grilled key figures involved in the scandal.
It has called for a ‘full, transparent and urgent investigation’ into what has happened to missing files related to child abuse in Rotherham – especially in regard to information stolen from a council researcher’s locked office in 2002.
And Fiona Woolf, chair of a new national inquiry into historic child abuse, has confirmed the issue of the missing files will be included in her panel’s investigations.
The way South Yorkshire Police handled child exploitation cases in Sheffield is now also starting to come under the spotlight – after claims were made earlier this week that information about alleged abusers in the city was ignored by the force.
Ann Lucas, who was involved with the city’s child sexual exploitation service, said more than 660 young people, mainly girls, were referred to her team between 2001 and 2013.
But she said police frequently failed to act when passed specific information about abusers.
As part of attempts to rebuild trust in the council, new leader Paul Lakin has created a £120,000 fund to pay for counselling for child sex victims, with the money coming through cutting two cabinet posts and banning foreign travel for councillors.
He has also set up a cross-party ‘improvement board’ that will report back to leading councillors each month on whether things are changing for the better.
Coun Lakin said: “The Jay report acknowledges we have already made improvements in our services although, tragically, this has come far too late for many victims.
“But we are not complacent and we will continue to make sure we do all we can to make sure more young people – both in Rotherham and across the country – are better protected.”
But with the full story of the 16-year scandal only now starting to emerge, the issue of how hundreds of children in Rotherham were abused for years and let down by the authorities supposed to protect them is likely to dominate headlines for months and possibly years to come.
WHAT THE JAY REPORT DISCOVERED
The damning Jay report said police had treated victims with ‘contempt’, while councillors and senior officers had been told of problems a decade ago but took no action.
The report found the majority of perpetrators of abuse had been of Pakistani origin, with most of the child victims white.
But there were concerns about identifying the ethnic origins of abusers because of fears staff could be perceived as ‘racist’.
So warnings from frontline workers about the extent of the problem went repeatedly unheeded by council bosses and South Yorkshire Police.
Meanwhile, girls as young as 11 were gang-raped by large numbers of men, children were doused in petrol and told they were going to be set alight, and youngsters were threatened with guns in a litany of horrendous abuse being inflicted in the town over a period of years.
Professor Jay’s report also revealed a 2002 report by a Home Office researcher employed by Rotherham Council had exposed the scale of the problem – but was ‘suppressed’ by police and the local authority, with the author hounded out of her job.
The inquiry also revealed councillors and senior officers were given seminars that explained the town’s child sex exploitation problem ‘in the most explicit terms’ in 2004/05.
Prof Jay said: “After these events, nobody could say, ‘We didn’t know’.”
Interviews with some senior councillors revealed ‘none could recall the issue ever being discussed in the Labour group until 2012’.
The report said there had been ‘blatant’ failings from Rotherham Council managers and South Yorkshire Police.
Prof Jay said frontline staff had tried to raise concerns about grooming problems, with senior managers knowing about the issue for years.
The report said abuse ‘continues to this day’, with around 50 cases still being dealt with.