Three criminal investigations into police officers linked to the Rotherham abuse scandal are under way, The Star can reveal.
A new independent review of South Yorkshire Police’s handling of child sexual exploitation cases between 1997 and 2016 by Professor John Drew CBE said two officers have been suspended in relation to the probes.
The IPCC said today three officers are being investigated on suspicion of committing misconduct in a public office.
Professor Drew said his inspection had found the force now handles child abuse cases in an ‘adequate’ way after learning the lessons of past failures.
But he said his review could only take account of ongoing Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations into around 200 complaints ‘in the most general of terms’ and there was ‘a wealth of material about policing in South Yorkshire’ he had not seen.
The IPCC have now received complaints from around 40 people in relation to how the force handled child abuse cases in Rotherham, with corrupt links to offenders among the allegations.
A total of 32 officers have been served with misconduct or criminal notices, with a further 34 named officers having cases against them examined. In addition there are more than 100 allegations involving yet-to-be identified officers.
Professor Drew said: “Three criminal investigations are under way, two sufficiently serious to involve the suspension of the officer concerned, while in two other cases the officers have been placed on restricted duties, reflecting potentially less serious issues raised against them.”
He also revealed a new strand to the IPCC’s investigation is being considered, potentially examining the ‘missed opportunities’ by senior officers to make child sexual exploitation crimes a higher priority for the force in the past.
His review found that attempts to raise the profile of child sexual exploitation between 2000 and 2009 ‘were met with lack of interest or professional curiosity by most officers in the more senior ranks of the force’ - due to the importance placed on the national policing priorities of the time of burglary, robbery and car crime.
He said he had been sent a detailed letter by Med Hughes, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police between 2004 and 2011, and his deputy Bob Dyson in which they said national targets meant attention was focused ‘at times on a narrow range of priorities’.
But the pair added: “Public expectations are always that the police will deal with any concern, request or issue.
“The authors do not accept that a centralised performance management regime absolves or reduces the responsibilities of the local police command team.”
Their letter to Professor Drew, which has not been made public in full, also said that at no stage did members of the Police Authority - which included future Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright - raise the issue of CSE with them.
The pair also stated that no-one from any of South Yorkshire’s local councils had raised the matter with them.
Professor Drew said: “It is hard to reconcile this account with the fact that there was growing evidence, that I have described, from within their own force about the scale of child sexual exploitation.
“I could find no written evidence that any of this had reached their desks, but there are minutes to show that some of these reports were considered at chief superintendent and superintendent level (and in 2011, immediately before Mr. Hughes’ retirement, at assistant chief constable level) which, to someone outside the force, strongly suggests that they ought to have heard something of the issue.
“Serving and former officers of SYP have told me that the national priorities were completely dominant within the force at this time, and in consequence there was little prospect of intelligence that might suggest a redirection of resources being given a hearing at the most senior level.
“Having listened carefully to all who wanted to talk about this issue, I am left with the firm impression that attempts to raise the profile of child sexual exploitation between 2000 and 2009 were met with lack of interest or professional curiosity by most officers in the more senior ranks of the force.
“Common sense suggests that this must have been in no little part due to the importance attached to national priorities.
“The leadership of SYP could reasonably have expected their local authority partners to know more about child sexual exploitation and to raise these issues with them.
“I could not find evidence of this happening at a senior level. But there was also no need, in my view, for the police to rely on information from councils and other partners when some of their own officers had a good grasp of the widespread nature of exploitation, and had those officers been given the opportunity, the senior ranks would have been informed of what was happening.”
He said officers had reported to him that there was a ‘very strong, top-down organisational culture, in which little value was attached to information from the grass roots of policing passing up through the chain of command’ during the 2000s.
Professor Drew said: “Mr Hughes said that no officer wrote to him directly to describe the child sexual exploitation problem.
“Officers to whom I have put this comment, including those of quite senior rank, have smiled and asked me why anyone would want to expose themselves as making criticism of force priorities when it was so clear what these were.
“I have little doubt that the priorities of SYP were stated so clearly that officers felt there was only so far they could go to propose alternatives.
“In other words, there was little point in pursuing an issue that they knew would not find favour.
“And some officers say that this was particularly the case for an officer who was hoping for promotion. It was widely thought that going against the grain would not commend an officer to those more senior who were responsible for promotion in the early 2000s.”
Professor Drew also criticised the ‘slow pace’ of the IPCC investigation, saying there had been ‘at least one case where a complaint on a significant matter was withdrawn’.
He said the IPCC will not be completed until well into next year ‘at the earliest’. Professor Drew said the situation has led to ‘frustration’ among complainants and put accused officers under ‘considerable pressure’.
Professor Drew added: “More generally it conveys the impression that SYP is continuing as though nothing had gone wrong in the past.
“This is, in my experience, most certainly not the case, but until there is greater progress with the IPCC investigations this impression will continue to exist.”
IPCC Deputy Chair Rachel Cerfontyne said: “Our ongoing investigations into police handling of reported CSE and child abuse have the highest priority within the IPCC. The public demand – and the victims deserve – a rigorous and thorough investigation into the police response. We will be analysing Professor Drew’s report with interest to see if it identifies any matters that we are not already aware of and which may require investigation.
“These are complex investigations and we are keen to conclude our work as quickly as we can, but we also recognise that we are dealing with a significant number of complainants and police officers, and allegations relating to events that spanned a number of years. A number of the victims we are dealing with are also giving evidence in ongoing criminal investigations being conducted by South Yorkshire Police and the National Crime Agency. We are handling these matters sensitively and ensuring our investigations are thorough and coordinated, as that is what all parties want from any investigation into these matters.”
The IPCC said ‘no firm decision’ has yet been made on whether to launch a new phase of the investigation focused on ‘missed opportunities’ by senior officers.