TThe rising number of victims of the Rotherham child sex scandal was still only “a drop in the ocean” of those affected, the town’s MP has said.
The organisation blamed the scale of the crimes on a “toxic” combination of failing to listen to victims and to investigate their claims of abuse.
In 2014, a report by Professor Alexis Jay revealed that the large scale exploitation had been effectively ignored by police and other agencies for more than a decade.
Paul Williamson, the senior investigating for Operation Stovewood, set up in the wake of the report, told a briefing that there were now 1,510 potential victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 – the same timescale as covered by Prof Jay. Of these, at least 1,300 were female, he said.
He also revealed that his team of 144 officers had identified 110 “designated suspects” – of whom around 80 per cent are of Pakistani heritage, The Yorkshire Post understands.
Sarah Champion, Rotherham’s Labour MP who has campaigned on behalf of the victims, said many more women had been preyed upon by grooming gangs before 1997 and after 2013.
She said abuse dated back to the early 1960s and had involved other communities, including the West Yorkshire town of Keighley.
But she said Rotherham was “the right size” for it to have spread without challenge by the police or other authorities.
“It is small enough for organised gangs to have got their arms around it and not so big for there to have been rival factions that people could no longer ignore,” she said.
Asked if fear of accusations of racism had prevented authorities from acting, she there was “definitely denial” by police, but added: “ It’s hard to second-guess why people didn’t believe these girls.
“I can’t imagine any child coming to me and telling me what they would have been saying, and not believing them.”
But she said it was clear that “this exact same model of grooming and abuse had been going on in pretty reasonably plain sight for a very long time”.
Ms Champion said she was not surprised that the National Crime Agency had increased the number of potential victims.
She said: “I would still argue that that’s a drop in the ocean a drop in the ocean.
“And behind every one of those numbers is an individual who needs help and support.”
Last autumn, the MP was forced to resign as Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary after a backlash from her warning that Britain had “a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.
She warned at the time that the “floppy left” was afraid of speaking out on issues such as sex grooming gangs for fear of being branded racist.
She said last night she was “incredibly impressed” with the work the Crime Agency was now doing and that the focus must be on getting more cases before the courts.
The agency launched its investigation after it was called in by South Yorkshire Police three years ago, and is now running the biggest such inquiry in the UK, with a £6.9m annual budget.