An investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham identifies 300 possible suspects, the National Crime Agency says.
The NCA investigation follows a report in August last year that said around 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013.
Steve Baldwin, the NCA’s senior investigating officer, has said that the number of 1,400 children was a “very good assessment.” He also confirmed that most of the potential suspects were Asian men and that the majority of the victims were white British girls.
The NCA says two people under investigation are serving or former Rotherham councillors.
Mr Baldwin said the approximation of 300 suspects was constantly changing as officers uncovered new information about the men’s identities. He told a briefing that “the abuse that has taken place in Rotherham is horrendous.”
“We have gathered a huge amount of material in Operation Stovewood and this details some disturbing events…Given the amount of victims…there is potential to identify thousands of offences.”
Mr Baldwin said the NCA team is prioritising suspects who still pose a threat and those who are suspected of committing the most serious offences.
Professor Alexis Jay’s report into the police and council in Rotherham, published in August last year, was highly critical: it said just over a third of children who had been abused were already known to the authorities because of child protection and neglect issues.
In the report Professor Jay said: “It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated.
“There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone.
“Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”
The NCA investigation, Operation Stovewood, began in December last year after the NCA was asked to intervene by South Yorkshire Police. Mr Baldwin says a team of 32 officers has identified more than 3,300 lines of inquiry. He said this included examining 47 boxes of written material, including 1,500 files from the outreach group Risky Business, an organisation which tried to help many of the victims.
Across the UK the NSPCC estimates that around 5 per cent of children (around 675,000) will have been sexually exploited by the time they become an adult.