Home Office officials knew of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham a decade before a bombshell report revealed that 1,400 youngsters had been abused while those in authority failed to act.
A newly published review has revealed that the Home Office had opportunities to question the response of the police and other agencies to reports of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham years before the scale of the abuse emerged.
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An investigation into what information had been passed to the Home Office, published on Tuesday, found that key documents could not be located but concluded that details were available to officials from 2002 which could have been followed up - 12 years before an independent report revealed the extent of the scandal.
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Professor Alexis Jay's report in 2014 revealed that 1,400 children were groomed, raped, abused and trafficked by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage while those in authority turned a blind eye.
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The National Crime Agency, which is investigating the historic offences, said the total number of victims is now believed to be over 1,500.
Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion said: "How many lives could have been protected if swift action had been taken a decade before?"
In a written statement to the Commons in response to the review, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: "The review did find that pieces of information questioning the response of statutory services were available to the Home Office, meaning that opportunities to follow up on, or seek further information about, matters in Rotherham, including whether the police and other statutory agencies were responding appropriately, existed."
Mr Javid said that, since 2014, the Home Office had introduced a recording and referral system for allegations of child abuse.
He said: "The Permanent Secretary and I take this issue extremely seriously and the Home Office will continue to promote amongst all staff the vital importance of using all available information to consider if a child is at risk of abuse."
The newly published review was ordered by then home secretary Theresa May following the Jay Report.
This inquiry focused on suggestions that the Home Office had received details about the scale of the exploitation of children in Rotherham and the response of agencies as part of the funding and evaluation of a research project.
Ms Champion added: "It is clear that the Home Office knew about child sexual exploitation in Rotherham from 2002.
"The report also highlights the knowledge of the local authority and South YorkshirePolice of the abuse.
"Why, when so many in authority knew the scale and severity of this crime, did it take until 2014, with the publication of the Jay Report, for a large-scale investigation to occur?
"How many lives could have been protected if swift action had been taken a decade before?"
"This review makes it clear that the Home Office did know about the abuse and I now believe even more strongly that they have a moral duty to help the women rebuild their lives."