Rotherham grooming probe ‘poised to become UK’s biggest-ever CSE investigation’

National Crime Agency update on Operation Stovewood, an investigation into child sexual explotation and abuse in Rotherham. Pictured is Steve Baldwin, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Stovewood and NCA Director Trevor Pearce.
National Crime Agency update on Operation Stovewood, an investigation into child sexual explotation and abuse in Rotherham. Pictured is Steve Baldwin, Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Stovewood and NCA Director Trevor Pearce.

An investigation into Rotherham child grooming may cost nearly £7m this year as it potentially becomes ‘the single largest CSE investigation ever undertaken in the UK’.

A new report has highlighted the National Crime Agency’s Operation Stovewood as one of the key financial pressures on South Yorkshire Police.

The force is footing the bill for the investigation by the NCA into historic child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham in the wake of police failures in the town’s child grooming scandal.

In June, the NCA said it had identified 300 potential suspects and was following up on 3,300 lines of enquiry in relation to allegations covering 1997 to 2013, the same period covered by the damning Jay report that found there were at least 1,400 victims of abuse.

At that stage, officials said the operation may last up to three years, at an annual cost of between £3m to £5m.

But a report by the South Yorkshire Police commissioner’s finance officer has now suggested the costs of the NCA investigation this year alone ‘could cost approximately £6.9m’ under one option being examined.

It said: “Discussions are taking place with the NCA regarding the level of resourcing requested for the ongoing investigative work.”

The report added an application will be made for a special grant from the Home Office but warned there is ‘potentially very little remaining’ in the Government fund.

It said: “The overall forecast therefore presently assumes that costs of CSE activity will exceed budget by approximately £4m to the year end, including the costs of the South Yorkshire Police CSE team, although this may change as issues about the likely NCA costs and the potential Special Grant funding become clearer.”

Among the other national child abuse investigations currently taking place is Operation Pallial, looking into claims of sexual abuse in the care system in North Wales, which involves around 320 potential victims between 1953 and 1995.

Another high-profile also underway is the Met Police-run Operation Yewtree, an enquiry into alleged child sexual exploitation by the late Jimmy Savile and others.

In 2012, the force said it had in excess of 400 lines of enquiry have been assessed and over 200 potential victims have been identified. A spokesman for the Met said today it would not be giving a ‘running commentary’ on the investigation and whether further victims and lines of inquiry have been identified.

But the South Yorkshire finance report has suggested the Rotherham investigation has the scope to become a larger operation than both of them and other similar investigations taking place around the country.

It said: “As Operation Stovewood has progressed, it has become clear that it has the potential to be the single largest CSE investigation ever undertaken in the UK.”

A spokesman for the NCA said: “We provide the force with regular updates on the costs/future costs of the investigation for each phase/accounting period. The level of resources required is benchmarked against similar investigations conducted elsewhere and national best practice.

“The investigation is large and complex, and involves investigating criminal activity over a 16-year-period by both organised groups and individuals. Work to identify all victims of non-familial CSE in Rotherham, potentially 1,400 people, is ongoing. We have prioritised two specific investigations under Operation Stovewood at this point.

“Investigations are conducted to a professional standard and as quickly as possible. The speed of an investigation is therefore based on the level of resources available at any given time. The standards to which we work, in the interests of victims/survivors, suspects and the criminal justice system, are non-negotiable. We expect the investigation to take a number of years.”