Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police are facing claims from at least 15 girls, it has emerged this week following publication of a report into child sexual exploitation in the area.
The claimants are said to have been subjected to sexual abuse by gangs of men in Rotherham between 1996 and 2012.
David Greenwood of Switalski’s Solicitors, their lawyer, said: “In each of the 15 cases I am handling, there have been failings by individual social workers, but more importantly, we have been able to identify that Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police have failed to act on information which could have led to the arrest of perpetrators.
“Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police missed clear opportunities to prevent the sexual exploitation of dozens of girls in Rotherham.”
Greenwood said he had been instructed to issue court proceedings to claim compensation.
The Daily Telegraph has since suggested that the compensation payable could reach £14m, with likely awards of around £100,000 per individual claimant based on previous claims.
In her report – which can be viewed here – Alexis Jay, a safeguarding expert, said more than 1,400 children had been exploited between 1997 and 2013.
She concluded that the local authority and its partners could and should have done more to protect children at risk.
Jay identified “serious failings”, which she attributed to senior managers in child protection services and elected members within the council and senior police officers, and not to frontline social or youth workers who repeatedly raised concerns about the nature and extent of the abuse.
These failings amounted to a series of missed opportunities to understand the scale of the issue.
Among the failings identified by Jay and summarised by Rotherham were:
- "Poor leadership from senior managers in child protection services and elected members, and a lack of communication between the two on the issue of child sexual exploitation;
- A perceived ‘lack of interest’ in, and understanding of, grooming as a model of child abuse amongst senior managers in child protection services and elected members;
- Failings within organisational culture and processes, which meant victims were not heard or believed, and that the concerns of frontline workers were not acknowledged or acted upon at the most senior levels;
- The perception that a ‘macho and bullying’ culture existed in the council up until 2009, and that this dampened the ability for child sexual exploitation to be properly discussed;
- Artificial ‘professional barriers’ and also ‘professional jealousies’ between organisations which prevented effective action;
- Denial that such events could happen in Rotherham, concerns around reputational risk and a perception that issues of ethnicity in child sexual exploitation were ‘played down’ by senior managers in child protection services and elected members;
- A series of reports commissioned and available to both the council and the police – flagging up serious concerns around the scale and nature of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham – did not appear to have been used effectively to influence the strategic or operational response of either organisation."
The report said the placing of children’s safeguarding services in government intervention in 2009 was a turning point for the council.
Responding to the report, Rotherham’s chief executive, Martin Kimber, said the council fully accepted its findings and the 15 recommendations, and it apologised to the victims and their families.
Kimber added: “The report does not make comfortable reading in its account of the horrific experiences of some young people in the past, and I would like to reiterate our sincere apology to those who were let down when they needed help.
“I commissioned this Independent Review to understand fully what went wrong, why it went wrong and to ensure that the lessons learned in Rotherham mean these mistakes can never happen again.”
He added: "The report confirms that our services have improved significantly over the last five years and are stronger today than ever before. This is important because it allows me to reassure young people and families that should anyone raise concerns we will take them seriously and provide them with the support they need.
"However, that must not overshadow – and certainly does not excuse – the finding that for a significant amount of time the council and its partners could and should have done more to protect young people from what must be one of the most horrific forms of abuse imaginable."
The Jay report – together with Kimber’s response to it – will be considered by Rotherham’s Cabinet on 3 September 2014.
The council’s Leader, Cllr Roger Stone, stood down from his post on publication of the report. However, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, Shaun Wright, has resisted calls from a range of politicians and organisations to step down.
Wright was Cabinet Member for children’s services at Rotherham between 2005 and 2010. He has refused to resign and instead has quit the Labour party.