A new review of South Yorkshire Police’s handling of child sexual exploitation crimes does not present a ‘complete picture’ of the force’s past failings, its author has admitted.
Professor John Drew found the force has made ‘strong progress’ in improving its approach to dealing with such offences in the last three years after confronting a ‘raft of weaknesses’ in its previous approach.
But at a press conference in Sheffield, Professor Drew accepted his review had been constrained after not being able to examine in detail 200 complaints made to the IPCC about officers in relation to the Rotherham scandal, as well as not speaking to witnesses in ongoing criminal cases or victims taking legal action to claim compensation from South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council.
He said: “There will be lessons to be learnt from the IPCC’s review.
“Until those reviews are completed I don’t think anyone can say they have a complete picture of the past.”
But Professor Drew, who is a former chief executive of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, said it was important his review into the force was published as the IPCC investigation may not be finished for 18 months.
More than 60 officers have been identified in relation to complaints about them in relation to the Rotherham abuse scandal, with the IPCC examining more than 100 allegations involving yet-to-be identified officers.
Professor Drew said practice has substantially improved at the force, with the recent ‘very first-quality’ prosecutions of a Rotherham grooming gang leading to other victims coming forward to give accounts to the police.
He said the force had taken steps to address past failings and should be given ‘considerable credit’ for the improvements it has achieved.
Police commissioner Alan Billings, who commissioned Professor Drew’s independent review after concerns were raised there had been similar failures in dealing with cases in Sheffield as in Rotherham, said the findings of the report had given him ‘qualified reassurance’ that the situation has improved in recent years.
He told a press conference in Sheffield: “It gives me, and it should give the public, confidence that today’s South Yorkshire Police are in a very different place from where they, and probably many other forces, were some years ago.”
Dr Billings said one of the key aims of ordering the review was to ensure plans were in place to ensure the Rotherham scandal - in which 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013 - could never happen again.
But Liberal Democrat Joe Otten, who is standing against Labour’s Dr Billings in the forthcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections, said Professor Drew’s review ‘raises more questions than it answers’ as it is not being able to take account of ongoing investigations into the police.
He said: “While some progress has been made, the report was compromised by ongoing investigations, so we cannot say that we have got to the bottom of this. Indeed it raises more questions than it answers.
“As the recent HMIC reports state, major improvements are still needed.”
David Crompton, the outgoing chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, said improvements are continuing.
Mr Crompton, who is to retire from the force in November, said: “We welcome Professor Drew’s report today and I am pleased it recognises that a huge amount of effort has gone into ensuring that we deal with the mistakes of the past and learn the lessons.
“I want to stress that tackling child sexual exploitation is an absolute priority for South Yorkshire Police, a finding that Professor Drew makes clear in his report.
“Since the Jay report we’ve heavily focused our resources on this issue and charged 124 people with offences related to child sexual exploitation.
“Just last month, we secured custodial sentences totalling 102 years against five people responsible for child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. We have also secured convictions against two people for witness intimidation offences in connection with child sexual exploitation investigations - one man is currently serving a prison sentence and the other is due to be sentenced.
“We note the report’s recommendations and accept that there is more to be done. Alongside the Police and Crime Commissioner, our partner agencies and forces across the country we will identify best practice and continue our commitment to protect children from sexual exploitation and harm.”