NCA has done ‘all we realistically can’ to identify child abuse victims in Rotherham

The National Crime Agency (NCA) says it is confident it has done “all we realistically can” to identify victims of the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal after identifying more than 1,000 survivors.

The agency insisted “this does not mean we are walking away” as it announced that, from January, new allegations will be handled by South Yorkshire Police rather than its Operation Stovewood – which it says is the UK’s biggest investigation into child abuse.

The agency said it is “confident that we have done all we realistically can to identify those individuals who may have been victims”, saying it has identified 1,143 children involved in the exploitation between 1997 and 2013 – almost all girls.

And it stressed it will continue to pursue its ongoing investigations in the town, which are expected to take until 2027 to go through the criminal justice system.

Operation Stovewood was set up in the wake of the Jay Report, which sent a shockwave across the nation in 2014 when it found that at least 1,400 girls were abused, trafficked and groomed by gangs of men of mainly Pakistani heritage in the town between those years.

The report by Professor Alexis Jay – who is now chairing the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – prompted a swathe of resignations and further inquiries after it emerged how police, social workers and other agencies had done little to tackle the issue.

NCA Stovewood Head of Investigations Philip Marshall (pictured) said on Tuesday: “During the course of the last nine years, we have identified more than 1,100 victims and made contact with as many of those as possible.

“Some, for reasons that are entirely understandable, have decided not to engage with us. We respect their decisions.

“We are now confident that we have done all we realistically can to identify those individuals who may have been victims during the Stovewood time period.

“As a result, from the start of 2024, the NCA will no longer open any new investigations, and any new allegations will be investigated by South Yorkshire Police.”

Mr Marshall said: “This does not mean we are walking away. We will continue to investigate in the cases we have already opened, and victims should know we will continue to treat them as a priority.

“We remain determined to seek justice for as many victims as possible and we will continue to work with partners including the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) to bring as many offenders to justice as we can.

“Both the NCA and South Yorkshire Police are determined this process should be as seamless as possible, and we’re confident that should anyone new come forward after January 1 they will still be supported in exactly the same way.”

The NCA said the operation has seen more than 200 arrests and officers have secured 26 convictions, with more than 50 active investigations ongoing under the Stovewood banner and more than 300 designated suspects identified.

Last week Neil Cawton, 68, from Rawmarsh, South Yorkshire, became the 26th person convicted since Stovewood began.

Cawton was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of nine separate child sex abuse offences committed against four victims between 2006 and 2012.

The NCA said it remains committed to seeing its current investigations through to the end of the criminal justice process, which is anticipated to continue into 2027.

The agency said Operation Stovewood is the single largest law enforcement operation of its kind ever undertaken in the UK and, at its height, had a staff of more than 200.

Previous estimates have put the cost of Operation Stovewood at around £90 million.

South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings said: “The NCA established Operation Stovewood to identify potential victims and undertake the investigations.

“This was the right decision in order for the investigation to be independent from South Yorkshire Police and allow victims to have trust in the process and the confidence to come forward.

“Since that time, South Yorkshire Police is a transformed force. It has undergone a great deal of reflection, learning and changes and is now in a very different place.”

Dr Billings said the chair of the Children’s Safeguarding Board in Rotherham has found South Yorkshire Police’s systems to be effective and robust and praised the quality of investigations and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services rated the force as Outstanding in the area of Protecting Vulnerable People.

He said: “Whilst there is always work to do, victims and survivors of CSE and residents of South Yorkshire can be assured that any new cases reported will be thoroughly investigated to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice, and that victims will continue to receive a very high standard of support.”

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